by James Caron
When this book was first published three years ago, it was already clear that the international movement of women had upset basic assumptions on which this society rested. In confronting what happens in the family and on the street, we have had to confront what happens in the factory, the office, the hospital, the school – in every institution of capitalist society.
This book offered the women’s movement a cohesive analysis, drawing on the descriptions by the movement of our diverse grievances. It offered a material foundation for ‘sisterhood’. That material foundation was the social activity, the work, which the female personality was shaped to submit to. That work was housework.
In singling out the work of the housewife as that for which women are trained and by which women are defined; in identifying its product as labour power – the working class -this book broke with all those previous analyses of capitalist society which began and ended in the factory, which began and ended with men. Our isolation in the family while doing our work had hidden its social nature. The fact that it brought no wage had hidden that it was work.
Serving men and children in wageless isolation had hidden that we were servingcapital. Now we know that we are not only indispensable to capitalist production in those countries where we are 45% of their waged labour force We are always their indispensable workforce, at home, cleaning, washing and ironing; making, disciplining and bringing up babies; servicing men physically, sexually and emotionally.
If our wageless work is the basis of our powerlessness in relation both to men and to capital, as this book, and our daily experience, confirm, then wages for that work, which alone will make it possible for us to reject that work, must be our lever of power. If our need for a wage and our need to break from our isolation have driven us to a second job outside the home, to more work at low pay, then our alternative to isolation and wagelessness must be a social/ struggle for the wage.
This perspective and practice derives directly from the theoretical analysis of this book. But even when the authors understood that Wages for Housework was the perspective which flowed logically from their analysis, they could not know all its implication. (See footnotes 16 and 1 7 on pp.54-55 below.) The book has been the starting point not for ‘a school of thought’ but for an international network of organisations which are campaigning for Wages for Housework.
Some of those who have disagreed with the analysis, and with the perspective ofWages for Housework that flows from it, have said that the perspective may apply to Italy but not to Britain or North America. The fact that an Italian woman, Mariarosa Dalla Costa, signed the main article, was proof for them of its geographic limitations. In fact, Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James wrote’Women and the Subversion of the Community’ together, as Mariarosa Dalla Costa herself has said publicly many times. The proof of the international implications of the analysis, however, lies not in the national origins of its authors, but in the international campaign for Wages for Housework which has now begun.
Power of Women Collective,Comitato per il Salano Britainal Lavoro Domestico di Padova July 1975(Padua Wages for Housework Committee)
PUBLISHERS’ NOTE We have left the text of Selma James’s introduction unchanged, even though, as the above Foreword makes clear, in referring to ‘Women and the Subversion of the Community Selma James is in fact referring to an article of which she joint author.
The two articles which follow were written 19 years and 7,000 miles apart.
The first, “Women and the Subversion of the Community”, is a product of the new women’s movement in Italy. It is a major contribution to the question posed by the existence of a growing international movement of women: What is the relation of women to capital and what kind of struggle can we effectively wage to destroy it? We must hastily add that this is not the same as asking: What concessions can we wring from the enemy? – though this is related. To pose the first question is to assume we’ll win; to pose the second is to calculate what we can salvage from the wreck of defeat. But in struggling to win, plenty can be gained along the way.
Up to now, the women’s movement has had to define itself unaided by any serious heritage of Marxist critique of women’s relation to the capitalist plan of development and underdevelopment. Quite the opposite. We inherited a distorted and reformist concept of capital itself as a series of things which we struggle to plan, control or manage, rather than as a social relation which we struggle to destroy.1 Bypassing that heritage or lack of it, our movement explored the female experience, beginning with what we personally knew it to be. This is how we have been able for the first time on a mass scale to describe with profound insight and cutting precision the degradation of women and the shaping of our personality by forces which intended that we accept this degradation, accept to be quiet and powerless victims. On the basis of these discoveries, two distinct political tendencies have emerged, apparently opposite extremes of the political spectrum within the women’s movement.
Among those who have insisted that caste and not class was fundamental, some women have asserted that what they call an “economic analysis” could not encompass, nor could a political struggle end, the physical and psychological oppression of women. They reject revolutionary political struggle. Capital is immoral, needs reforms and should be left behind, they say (thereby implying that the reforms are a moral obligation which are themselves a negotiated and above all non-violent transition to “socialism”), but it is not the only enemy. We must change men and/or ourselves first. So that not only political struggle is rejected; so is liberation for the mass of women who are too busy working and seeing after others to look for a personal solution.
The possible future directions of these politics vary, mainly because this point of view takes a number of forms depending on the stratum of women who hold it. An elite club of this type can remain introverted and isolated – harmless except as it discredits the movement generally. Or it can be a source of those managerial types in every field which the class in charge is looking for to perform for. it ruling functions over rebellious women and, god bless equality, over rebellious men too.2 Integral to this participation in the marginal aspects of ruling, by the way, is an ambition and rivalry up to now primarily identified with men.
But history, past and future, is not simple. We have to note that some of the most incisive discoveries of the movement and in fact its autonomy have come from women who began by basing themselves on a repudiation of class and class struggle. The task of the movement now is to develop a political strategy on the foundations of these discoveries and on the basis of this autonomy.
Most of those who have insisted from the beginning that class and not caste was fundamental have been less able to translate our psychological insights into autonomous and revolutionary political action. Beginning with a male definition of class, the liberation of women is reduced to equal pay and a “fairer” and more efficient welfare State.3 For these women capital is the main enemy but because it is backward, not because it exists. They don’t aim to destroy the capitalist social relation but only to organize it more rationally. (The extra-parliamentary left in Italy would call this a “socialist” as distinct from a revolutionary position.) What a rationized capital-equal pay, more and better nurseries, more and better jobs, etc. can’t fix, they call “oppression” which, like Topsy, the orphaned slave child who never knew her parents, “just growed”. Oppression disconnected from material relations is a problem of “consciousness”-in this case, psychology masquerading in political jargon. And so the “class analysis” has been used to limit the breadth of the movement’s attack and even undermine the movement’s autonomy.
The essentially similar liberal nature of these two tendencies, wanting to rationally manage “society” to eliminate “oppression”, is not usually apparent until we see the “political” women and these “non-political” women join together on concrete demands or, more often, against revolutionary actions. Most of us in the movement belong to neither of these tendencies and have had a hard time charting a course between them. Both ask us: “Are you a feminist or are you political?”
The “political” women who talk of class are easy to identify. They are the women’s liberationists whose first allegiance is not to the women’s movement but to organizations of the male-dominated left. Once strategy and action originate from a source outside of women, women’s struggle is measured by how it is presumed to affect men, otherwise known as “the workers”, and women’s consciousness by whether the forms of struggle they adopt are the forms men have traditionally used.
The “political” women see the rest of us as non-political and this has tended to drive us together in self-protection, obscuring or playing down real political differences among us. These now are beginning to make themselves felt. Groups which call themselves Psychology Groups (I’m not talking here about consciousness raising groups) tend to express the politics of caste most coherently.4 But whichever quarter they come from, viewing women as a caste and only a caste is a distinct political line which is increasingly finding political and organizational expression in every discussion of what to do. In the coming period of intense working class activity, as we are forced to create our own political framework, casting away second-hand theories of male-dominated socialist movements, the pre-eminence of caste will be posed as the alternative and will have to be confronted and rejected as well. On this basis alone can the new politics inherent in autonomy find its tongue and its muscle.
This process of development is not unique to the women’s movement. The Black movement in the US (and elsewhere) also began by adopting what appeared to be only a caste position in Opposition to the racism of white male-dominated groups. Intellectuals in Harlem and Malcolm X, that great revolutionary, were both nationalists, both appeared to place color above class when the white left were still chanting variations of “Black and white unite and fight”, or “Negroes and Labour must join together”. The Black working class was able through this nationalism to redefine class: overwhelmingly Black and Labor were synonymous (with no other group was Labor as synonymous except perhaps with women), the demands of Blacks and the forms of struggle created by Blacks were the most comprehensive working class demands and the most advanced working class struggle. This struggle was able to attract to itself the best elements among the intellectuals who saw their own persecution as Blacks-as a caste-grounded in the exploitation of Black workers. These intellectuals who got caught in the moment of nationalism after the class had moved beyond it saw race in increasingly individual terms and made up that pool from which the State Department could hook the fish of tokenism appointing a Black as special presidential advisor on slum clearance, for example-and the personnel of a new, more integrated technocracy.
In the same way women for whom caste is the fundamental issue will make the transition to revolutionary feminism based on a redefinition of class or invite integration into the white male power structure.
But “‘Marxist’ women,” as a woman from the movement in New Orleans says, “are just ‘Marxist’ men in drag.” The struggle as they see it is not qualitatively different from the one the organized labor movement under masculine management has always commended to women, except that now, appended to the “general struggle”, is something called “women’s liberation” or women s struggle” voiced by women themselves. This “general struggle” I take to mean the class struggle. But there is nothing in capitalism which is not capitalistic, that is, not part of the class struggle. The questions are (a) Are women except when they are wage workers auxiliary to capitalism (as has been assumed) and therefore auxiliary to a more basic, more general struggle against capitalism; and (b) Can anything ever have been “general” which has excluded so many women for so long? Rejecting on the one hand class subordinated to feminism and on the other feminism subordinated to class, Mariarosa Dalla Costa has confronted what (to our shame) has passed for Marxism with the female experience that we have been exploring and struggling to articulate. The result has been a translation of our psychological insights into a critique of the political economy of the exploitation of women, the theoretical basis for a revolutionary and autonomous women’s struggle. Based on what we know of how we are degraded, she moves into the question of why, in a depth as far as I know not reached before.
One great achievement of Marx was to show that the specific social relations between people in the production of the necessities of life, relations which spring up without their conscious planning, “behind the backs of individuals” (Menschen – previously translated as men), distinguish one society from another. That is, in class society, the form of the relation between people through which the ruling class robs the exploited of their labor is unique in each historic epoch, and all other social relations in the society, beginning with the family and including every other institution, reflect that form. For Marx history was a process of struggle of the exploited, who continually provoke over long periods and in sudden revolutionary leaps changes in the basic social relations of production and in all the institutions which are an expression of these relations. The family, then, was the basic biological unit differing in form from one society to another, directly related to the way people produce. According to him, the family, even before class society, had the subordinated woman as its pivot; class society itself was an extension of the relations between men on the one hand and women and children on the other, an extension, that is, of the man’s command over the labor of his woman and his children.
The women’s movement has gone into greater detail about the capitalist family. After describing how women are conditioned to be subordinated to men, it has described the family as that institution where the young are repressed from birth to accept the discipline of capitalist relations-which in Marxist terms begins with the discipline of capitalist work. Other women have identified the family as the center of consumption, and yet others have shown that housewives make up a hidden reserve work force: “unemployed” women work behind closed doors at home, to be called out again when capital needs them elsewhere.
The Dalla Costa article affirms all the above, but places them on another basis: the family under capitalism is a center of conditioning, of consumption and of reserve labor, but a center essentially of social production, When previously so-called Marxists said that the capitalist family did not produce for capitalism, was not part of social production, 5 it followed that they repudiated women’s potential social power. Or rather, presuming that women in the home could not have social power, they could not see that women in the home produced. If your production is vital for capitalism, refusing to produce, refusing to work, is a fundamental lever of social power.
Marx’s analysis of capitalist production was not a meditation on how the society “ticked”. It was a tool to find the way to overthrow it, to find the social forces who, exploited by capital, were subversive to it. Yet it was because he was looking for the forces that would inevitably overthrow capital that he could describe capital’s social relations which are pregnant with working class subversion. It is because Mariarosa Dalla Costa was looking for women’s lever of social power among those forces that she was able to uncover that even when women do not work out of their homes, they are vital producers.
The commodity they produce, unlike all other commodities, is unique to capitalism: the living human being – “the laborer himself”, Capital’s special way of robbing labor is by paying the worker a wage that is enough to live on (more or less) and to reproduce other workers. But the worker must produce more in the way of commodities than what his wage is worth. The unpaid surplus labor is what the capitalist is in business to accumulate and what gives him increasing power over more and more workers: he pays for some labor to get the rest free so he can command more labor and get even more free, ad infinitum-until we stop him. He buys with wages the right to use the only “thing” the worker has to sell, his or her ability to work. The specific social relation which is capital, then, is the wage relation. And this wage relation can exist only when the ability to work becomes a saleable commodity. Marx calls this commodity labor power.
This is a strange commodity for it is not a thing The ability to labor resides only in a human being, whose life is consumed in the process of producing First it must be nine months in the womb must be fed, clothed and trained” then when it works its bed must be made, its floor is swept its lunchbox prepared it’s sexuality not gratified but quietened its dinner ready when it gets home even if this is eight in the morning from the night shift This is how labor power is produced and reproduced when it is daily consumed in the factory or the office. To describe its basic’ production and reproduction is to describe women ‘s Work.
The community therefore is not an area of freedom and leisure auxiliary to the factory where by chance there happen to be women who are degraded as the personal servants of men The community is the other half of capitalist organization the other area of hidden capitalist exploitation the other hidden source of surplus labor.6 It becomes increasingly regimented like a factory what Mariarosa calls a social factory where the costs and nature of transport, housing, medical care, education, police, are all points of struggle! And this social factory has as its pivot the woman in the home producing labor power as a commodity, and her struggle not to.
The demands of the women’s movement, then, take on a new and more subversive significance, When we say, for example, that we want control of our own bodies, we are challenging the domination of capital which has transformed our reproductive organs as much as our arms and legs into instruments of accumulation of surplus labor; transformed our relations with men, with our children and our very creation of them, into work productive to this accumulation.
The second document, “A Woman’s Place”, originally published as a pamphlet, Comes from the United States. It was written in 1952 at the height of the cold war, in Los Angeles, where the immigration of young working men and women had assumed Biblical dimensions 8. Though it bears my name, I was merely a vehicle for expressing what women, housewives and factory workers, felt and knew as immigrants to the Golden West from the South and Fast.
It was already clear even then that working outside the home did not make drudgery at home any more appealing, nor liberate us from the responsibility for housework when it was shared. It was equally clear that to think of spending our lives packing chocolates, or winding transformers, or wiring televisions was more than we could bear. We rejected both and fought against both. For example, in those days a man’s friends would still laugh if they saw him wearing an apron and washing up. We changed that.
There is no doubt that the courage to fight for these changes sprang directly from that pay check which we so hated to work for. But though we hated the work, for most of us it provided the first opportunity for an independent social experience outside the isolation of the home, and seemed the only alternative to that isolation. After the mass entry of women into industry during the second world war, and our brutal expulsion between 1945 and 1947, from 1947 when they wanted us again we came back and, with the Korean war (1949), in increasing numbers. For all the reasons out-lined in the pamphlet, we wanted money and saw no alternative to demanding jobs.
That we were immigrants from industrial, farming or coal-mining areas made us more dependent on that pay check, since we had only ourselves to on. But it gave us an advantage too. In the new aircraft and electronics industries of L.A., in addition to the standard jobs for women, for example in food and clothing, we – more white women than Black, who were in those days largely denied jobs with higher (subsistence) pay – we managed to achieve new freedom of action. We were unrestrained by fathers and mothers who stayed “back East” or “down South”. Trade unions, formed in the Last years before by bitter struggle, by the time they were imported West were negotiators for a 10-cents-a-year rise, and were part of the disciplinary apparatus which confronted us on the assembly line and which we paid for in high dues taken out before we ever saw our money. Other traditional forms of “political” organization were either non-existent or irrelevant and most of us ignored them. In short, we made a clean break with the past.
In the women’s movement of the late sixties, the energy of those who refused the old forms of protection or who never knew them, finally found massive articulation Yet 20 years before in the baldness of our confrontation with capital (directly and via men) we were making our way through what has become increasingly an international experience This experience taught us’ the second job outside of the home is another boss superimposed on the first ~ woman’s first job is to reproduce other peoples labor power and her second is to reproduce and sell her own. So that her struggle in the Family and in the factory, the joint organizers of her labor, of her husband’s labor and of the future labor of her children, is one whole. The very unity in one person of the two divided aspects of capitalist production presupposes not only a new scope of struggle but an entirely new evaluation of the weight and cruciality of women in that struggle.
These are the themes of the Dalla Costa article. What was posed by the struggle of so-called “reactionary” or “backward” or at best “non-political” housewives and factory wives in the United States 20 years ago is taken by a woman in Italy and used as a starting point for a restatement of Marxist theory and a reorientation of struggle. This theoretical development parallels and expresses and is needed for an entirely new level of struggle which women internationally are in the process of waging.
We’ve come a long way, baby.
It is no accident that the Dalla Costa article has come from Italy. First of all, because so few women in Italy have jobs outside the home, the housewife’s position seems frozen, and she derives little power from neighbors working out of the home. In this respect her situation is closer to the Los Angeles woman of “A Woman’s Place” than to that same woman today. So that it is impossible to have a feminist movement in Italy which does not base itself on women in the home.
At the same time, the fact that today millions of women elsewhere go out to work and are engaged there in a struggle with new objectives throws her situation into stark relief and poses possibilities which the Los Angeles woman 20 years ago could not envisage: the housewife in Italy anywhere can seek an alternative to the direct exploitation of the factory and office in order to get out of the home. By herself in the Catholic Italian ghetto, she seems trapped unless she demands that jobs be created for her. As part of an international struggle, she can begin to refuse, as other women are refusing, to pass from capitalist underdevelopment through capitalist development in order to make a struggle for her liberation. Women with pay packets in the industrial as well as the Third World, by refusing to be wives to the house or wives to the factory, are posing a new alternative for themselves and for her.
Mariarosa says: “Capital itself is seizing upon the same impetus which created a movement – the rejection by millions of women of women traditional place – to recompose the work force with increasing numbers of women. The movement can only develop in opposition to this…This ultimately is the dividing line between reformism and revolutionary politics within the women’s movement.”
Up to now a woman who needed to break her isolation and find autonomy could find these only in an alternative within capitalist planning. The struggle of women today is posing as the only alternative the struggle itself and through it the destruction of the capitalist plan. In England the motive force of this struggle is the Unsupported Mother’s fight for a guaranteed income; in the United States, the Welfare Mother’s demand for a living wage and her refusal of the jobs organized by the State. The response of the State in both countries shows how dangerous it considers this new basis of struggle to be, how dangerous it is for women to leave their homes, not for another job, but for a picket line, a meeting or to break the windows of the SS or Welfare Office.
Through an international movement “which is by its nature a struggle”, the power from the female pay packet is put at the disposal of the wageless woman, so that the wageless woman can recognise and utilize her own power, hidden up to now. The second reason that this orientation finds expression in Italy is that on another level the working class there has a unique history of struggle. It has behind it factory takeovers in the early ’20s, the defeat by capitalism in its fascist version, and then an armed underground resistance against it. (1 hope by now there is no need to add that this was a movement of men and women, though it is worth noting that we cannot imagine what the outcome would have been if women had played not only a bigger role but a different role in, for example, the factory takeovers.) In the postwar years were added to its ranks workers from Southern Italy who, emigrating from an area of underdevelopment, were new to and rebellious against the discipline of wage labor. By 1969, this working class by its struggle was able to orient to itself a massive student movement and create an extra-parliamentary left which, reflecting this history, is unique in Europe.
This extra-parliamentary left has not integrated women into its political perspective as an autonomous force, and is dominated by a male arrogance which Catholicism has promoted. But they concentrate on the class as they conceive of it, despite jargon they have broken from the dominant European leftist ideology which was eurocentric and intellectual, and above all, they advance and engage in direct offensive action.
One of the dominant premises of European ideology from which the Italian left has broken is that the working class in the United States-and not only the female of the species-is “backward”. In the eyes of the European left, the Black movement was an exotic historical accident external to the class, and the standard of living of the most powerful layers of the class was a gift of capital, not the fruit of bitter and violent struggle. What was not European, even when it was white, was not quite “civilised’. This racism predates the slave trade, and has fed off the conquests of imperial states since 1492.
It is against this background that Mariarosa Dalla Costa chose “A Woman’s Place” to be published in Italy along with her own essay, as an expression of the day-to-day revolutionary struggle 20 years ago of those who have been sneered at by European and American left intellectuals alike. Dalla Costa sees in the class struggle in the United States the most powerful expression of the class internationally; sees the class as international: it is clear that both the industrial and the Third worlds are integral to her view of the struggle. Here then we have the beginnings of a new analysis of who is the working class. It has been assumed to be only the waged worker. Dalla Costa disagrees. The social relation of the waged to the unwaged-thefatnily~i5 integral to the social relation which is capital itself – the wage relation. If these two are integral to the structure of capital, then the struggle against one is interdependent with the struggle against the other.
An analysis of class based on the structure of exploitation and the stage of the antagonism within this structure, c~ evaluate women’s day-to-day struggle as it continues to develop by its causes and its effects, rather than by somebody else’s idea of what our “political consciousness” should be.
In the UK and the US (and probably in other Western countries) the women’s movement has had to repudiate the refusal of the white left to see any other area of struggle than the factory in the metropolis.
In Italy, the women’s movement, while it works out its own autonomous mode of existence against the left and the student movement, is clashing on a ground which, apparently, these latter had covered: how to organize the struggle at the Community level.
What they proposed for the struggle in the community, it turns out, was just an extension, a mechanical projection of the factory struggle: the male worker continued to be the central protagonist, Mariarosa Dalla Costa considers the community as first and foremost the home, and considers therefore the woman as the central figure of subversion in the community. Seen in this way, women are the contradiction in all previous political frameworks, which had been based on the male worker in industry.10 Once we see the community as a productive center and thus a center of subversion, the whole perspective for fell generalized struggle and revolutionary organization is re-opened.
The kinds of action and organization which, with the heritage of working class struggle in Italy, can grow from a movement of class and caste, this time finally of women, in the heartland of the Catholic church, is bound to widen the possibilities of our own struggle in whatever country our international movement happens to be.
Power to the sisters and therefore to the class.
Selma James, Padova, 27 July, 1972
1 “…Wakefield discovered that in the Colonies property in money means of subsistence, machines and other means of production does not as yet stamp a man as a capitalist if there be wanting the correlative the wage worker the other man who is compelled to sell himself of his own freewill He discovered that capital is not a thing but a social relation between persons established by the instrumentality of things. Mr Peel he moans, took with him from England to Swan River West Australia means of subsistence and of production to the amount of £50,000. Mr. Peel had the foresight to bring with him, besides, 3,000 persons of the working class, men, women and children. Once arrived at his destination, ‘Mr. Peel was left without a servant to make his bed or fetch him water from the river.’ Unhappy Mr. Peel who provided for everything except the export of English modes of production to Swan River!” Capital, Vol.1, K. Marx, p.766, Moscow 1958. (Our emphasis.)
2 The Financial Times of Match 9, 1971, suggests that many capitalists are missing the opportunity to “use” women in positions of middle management; being “grateful outsiders”, women would not only lower the pay structure, “at least in the first instance”, but be a source of renewed energy and vitality” with which to manage the rest of us,
3 If this seems an extreme statement, look at the demands we in England marched for in 1971: equal pay, free 24-hour child care, equal educational opportunity and tree birth control and abortion on demand. Incorporated into a wider struggle, some of these are vital. As they stand, they accept that we not have the children we can’t afford; they demand of the State facilities to keep the children we can afford for as long as 24 hours a day; and they demand that these children have equal chance to be Conditioned and trained to sell themselves Competitively with each other on the labor market for equal pay. By themselves these are not just co-optable demands. They are capitalist planning. Most of us in the movement never felt these demands expressed where we wanted the movement to go, but in the absence of an independent feminist political framework, we lost by default. The prune architects of these demands were women with a “class analysis”.
4 Psychology itself by its nature is a prime weapon of manipulation, i.e. social control, of men, women and children. It does not acquire another nature when wielded by women in a movement for liberation, quite the reverse. To the degree that we permit, it manipulates the movement and changes the nature of that to suit its needs. And not only psychology, “Women’s liberation needs: -to destroy sociology as the ideollogy of the social services which bases itself on the proposition that this society is ‘the norm’; if you are a person in rebellion, you are a deviant. -to destroy psychology and psychiaatry which spend their time convincing us that our ‘problems’ are personal hang-ups and that we must adjust to a lunatic world. These so-called ‘disciplines’ and ‘sciences’ will increasingly incorporate our demands in order more efficiently to redirect our forces into safe channels under their stewardship, Unless we deal ‘with them, they will deal with us. -to discredit once and for all soccial workers, progressive educators, marriage guidance counsellors, and the whole army of experts whose function is to keep men, women and children functioning within the social framework, each by their own special brand of social frontal lobotomy.” (“The American Family.’ Decay and Rebirth”, Selma James, reprinted in From Feminism to Liberation, collected by Edith Hoshino Altback, Schenkman, Cambridge, Mass., 1971, pp.197-8.)
5 Marx himself does not seem to have said anywhere that it was, Why this is so requires more space than is available here and more reading of the man at the expense of his interpreters, Suffice it to say that, first, he is singular in seeing consumption as a phase of production: “It is the production and reproduction of that means of production so indispensable to the capitalist; the laborer himself,” (Capital, Vol.1, Moscow, 1958, p.572.) Second, he alone has given us the tools to make our own analysis, And finally, he never was guilty of the nonsense with which Engels, despite his many contributions, has saddled us and which, from the Bolsheviks to Castro, has given a “Marxist” authority to backward and often reactionary policies towards women of revolutionary governments,
6 I said earlier that Dalla Costa moves into the question of why women are degraded “in a depth as far as I know not reached before”. Three previous attempts stand out (and can all be found in From Feminism to Liberation, previously cited.) “The Political Economy of Women’s Liberation” by Margaret Benston attempts to answer the same question It fails in my view because it bases itself not on Marx but on Ernest Mandel. Even the few paragraphs of Mandel which Benston quotes are enough to expose the theoretical basis of modern Trotskyist liberalism What we must restrict ourselves to here is what he says about women’s work in the home, which Benston accepts. “The second group of products in capitalist society which are not commodities but remain simple use value consists of all things produced in the home. Despite the fact that considerable human labour goes into this type of household production, it still remains a production of use values and not of commodities. Every time a soup is made or a button sewn on a garment it constitutes production, but it is not production for the market (Quoted from An Introduction to Marxist Economic Theory, Merit, N.Y., 1967, pp. 10-11. Even the title betrays the falsity of the content: there is no such thing as Marxist economic theory or Marxist political economy” or for that matter “Marxist sociology”. Marx negated political economy in theory and the working class negates it in practice For economics fragments the qualitative relations between people into a Compartmentalized and quantified relation between things When, as under capitalism our labor power becomes a commodity, we become factors in production, objects, sexual and in every way, which the economists, the sociologists and the rest of the vampires of capitalist science then examine plan for and try to control). Juliet Mitchell (Women The Longest Revolution ) also believes that although women “are fundamental to the human condition yet in their economic, social and politic ii roles they are marginal (P 93 ) The error of her method, in my view, is that once again an interpreter of Marx this time Althusser, is her guide Here separation of economic social and political roles is conscious policy Labor power is a commodity produced by women in the home It is this commodity which turns wealth into capital The buying and selling of this commodity turns the market into a capitalist market Women are not margin al in the home, in the factory in the hospital m the office We are fundamental to the reproduction of capital and fundamental to its destruction Peggy Morton of Toronto in a splendid article “A Woman’s Work Is Never Done”, points out that the family is the “unit whose function is the maintenance of and reproduction of labor power i e…the structure of the family is determined by the needs of the economic system at any given time, for a certain kind of labor power…”(P.214.) Benston calls, after Engels, for the capitalist industrialization of household jobs as “preconditions” for “true equality in job opportunity and the industrialization of housework is unlikely unless women are leaving the home for jobs ” (P 207 ) That is, if we get jobs capital will industrialize the areas where, according to her, we only produce use-values and not capital; this wins us the right to be exploited equally with men. With victories like that, we don’t need defeats. On the other hand, Morton is not looking for what concessions we can wring from the enemy but how to destroy him. “All too often we forget why we are Organizing women; the purpose of building a mass movement is not to build a mass movement, but to make revolution.” Benston, she says, “does not provide any basis on which strategy for a women’s movement can he based.” The absence of this motive for analysis in the movement generally encourages a real liberalism among us. ” (P.212.) Right on.
7 For those who believe the struggle in the social factory is not political, let them note that here, more than in the factory, is the State directly the Organizer of the life of the worker, especially if she is a woman, and so here the worker confronts the State more directly, without the intervention of individual capitalists and the mediation of trade unions.
8 Southern California had been invaded by a huge wave of immigration during the war. Between 1940-46, the population of San Diego had increased by 61%, that of L.A. by 29%. (Business Week, 20 Dec., 1947, p.72.)
9 It is literally clashing. As I write, the Italian women’s movement is replying to the attacks by some men of the left which began with a physical confrontation in Rome this month, when a section of the feminist movement, Lotta Femminista, held an international seminar at the university on women’s employment and naturally excluded men. The men said we were “racist” and “fascist” and broke up the seminar. We exchanged blow for blow and were not defeated. In fact our violent response to their violence drew us closer together.
10 Even when he is unemployed. At a recent Claimants Union conference members of one of the left groups were given the following instructions circulated in one of the group’s internal documents. “[Our] work in a C.U. should be to orientate the C.U. away from the unsupported mother, sick, old, etc., towards unemployed workers.” When some women in the Claimants Union discovered the document and reproduced it for the benefit of the conference, there was uproar. Such contempt for those sections of the class who are less powerful has terrifying implications. If the male worker is the only subject of a political framework, then once women assert their central role in the struggle, that traditional political framework must be shattered.
11 Not only for Claimants Unions is this an urgent and practical question (see footnote 10). The armed branch of the Irish movement has been male enough in its relations with women and children to be satisfied with containing their Participation in the struggle. If the fruit is bitter the women will be blamed.
These observations are an attempt to define and analyze the “Woman Question”, and to locate this question in the entire “female role” as it has been created by the capitalist division of labor. We place foremost in these pages the housewife as the central figure in this female role. We assume that all women are housewives and even those who work outside the home continue to be housewives. That is, on a world level, it is precisely what is particular to domestic work, not only measured as number of hours and nature of work, but as quality of life and quality of relationships which it generates, that determines a woman’s place wherever she is and to whichever class she belongs. We concentrate here on the position of the working class woman, but this is not to imply that only working class women are exploited. Rather it is to confirm that the role of the working class housewife, which we believe has been indispensable to capitalist production, is the determinant for the position of all other women. Every analysis of women as a caste, then, must proceed from the analysis of the position of working class housewives.
In order to see the housewife as central, it was first of all necessary to analyze briefly how capitalism has created the modern family and the housewife’s role in it, by destroying the types of family group or community which previously existed.
This process is by no means complete. While we are speaking of the Western world and Italy in particular, we wish to make clear that to the extent that the capitalist mode of production also brings the Third World under its command, the same process of destruction must and is taking place there. Nor should we take for granted that the family as we know it today in the most technically advanced Western countries is the final form the family can assume under capitalism. But the analysis of new tendencies can only be the product of an analysis of how capitalism created this family and what woman’s role is today, each as a moment in a process. We propose to complete these observations on the female role by analyzing as well the position of the woman who works outside the home, but this is for a later date. We wish merely to indicate here the link between two apparently separate experiences: that of housewife and that of working woman. The day-to-day struggles that women have developed since the second world war run directly against the organization of the factory and of the home. The “unreliability” of women in the home and out of it has grown rapidly since then, and runs directly against the factory as regimentation organized in time and space, and against the social factory as organization of the reproduction of labor power. This trend to more absenteeism, to less respect for timetables, to higher job mobility, is shared by young men and women workers. But where the man for crucial periods of his youth will be the sole support of a new family, women who on the whole are not restrained in this way and who must always consider the job at home, are bound to be even more disengaged from work discipline, forcing disruption of the productive flow and therefore higher costs to capital. (This is one excuse for the discriminatory wages which many times over make up for capital’s loss.) It is this same trend of disengagement that groups of housewives express when they leave their children with their husbands at work.1 This trend is and will increasingly be one of the decisive forms of the crisis in the systems of the factory and of the social factory.
In recent years, especially in the advanced capitalist countries, there have developed a number of women’s movements of different orientations and range, from those which believe the. Fundamental conflict in society is between men and women to those focusing on the position of women as a specific manifestation of class exploitation. If at first sight the position and attitudes of the former are perplexing, especially to women who have had previous experience of militant participation in political struggles, it is, we think, worth pointing out that women for whom sexual exploitation is the basic social contradiction provide an extremely important index of the degree of our own frustration, experienced by millions of women both inside and outside the movement. There are those who define their own lesbianism in these terms (we refer to views expressed by a section of the movement in the US in particular): “Our associations with women began when, because we were together, we could acknowledge that we could no longer tolerate relationships with men, that we could not prevent these from becoming power relationships in which we were inevitably subjected. Our attentions and energies were diverted, our power was diffused and its objectives delimited.” From this rejection has developed a movement of gay women which asserts the possibilities of a relationship free of a sexual power struggle, free of the biological social unit, and asserts at the same time our need to open ourselves to a wider social and therefore sexual potential. Now in order to understand the frustrations of women expressing themselves in ever-increasing forms, we must be clear what in the nature of the family under capitalism precipitates a crisis on this scale. The oppression of women, after all, did not begin with capitalism. What began with capitalism was the more intense exploitation of women as women and the possibility at last of their liberation. The origins of the capitalist family In pre-capitalist patriarchal society the home and the family were central to agricultural and artisan production. With the advent of capitalism the socialization of production was organized with the factory as its center. Those who worked in the new productive center, the factory, received a wage. Those who were excluded did not. Women, children and the aged lost the relative power that derived from the family’s dependence on their labor, which was seen to be social and necessary. Capital, destroying the family and the community and production as one whole, on the one hand has concentrated basic social production in the factory and the office, and on the other has in essence detached the man from the family and turned him into a wage laborer. It has put on the man’s shoulders the burden of financial responsibility for women, children, the old and the ill, in a word, all those who do not receive wages. From that moment began the expulsion from the home of all those who did not procreate and service those who worked for wages. The first to be excluded from the home, after men, were children; they sent children to school. The family ceased to be not only the productive, but also the educational center.2 To the extent that men had been the despotic heads of the patriarchal family, based on a strict division of labor, the experience of women, children and men was a contradictory experience which we inherit. But in pre-capitalist society the work of each member of the community of serfs was seen to be directed to a purpose: either to the prosperity of the feudal lord or to our survival. To this extent the whole community of serfs was compelled to be co-operative in a unity of unfreedom that involved to the same degree women, children and men, which capitalism had to break.3 In this sense the unfree individual, the democracy of unfreedom 4 entered into a crisis. The passage from serfdom to free labor power separated the male from the female proletarian and both of them from their children. The unfree patriarch was transformed into the “free” wage earner, and upon the contradictory experience of the sexes and the generations was built a more profound estrangement and therefore a more subversive relation. We must stress that this separation of children from adults is essential to an understanding of the full significance of the separation of women from men, to grasp fully how the organization of the struggle on the part of the women’s movement, even when it takes the form of a violent rejection of any possibility of relations with men, can only aim to overcome the separation which is based on the “freedom” of wage labor. The class struggle in education The analysis of the school which has emerged during recent years -particularly with the advent of the students’ movement”” has clearly identified the school as a center of ideological discipline and of the shaping of the labor force and its masters. What has perhaps never emerged, or at least not in its profundity, Is precisely what precedes all this; and that is the usual desperation of children on their first day of nursery school, when they see themselves dumped into a class and their parents suddenly desert them. But it is precisely at this point that the whole story of School begins.5 Seen in this way, the elementary school children are not (hose appendages who, merely by the demands “free lunches, ln’r lures, free books”, learnt from the older ones, can in some wuy be united with the students of the higher schools.6 In rlriiH.’ntary school children, in those who are the sons and tliiunhtcrs of workers, there is always an awareness that school is in some way setting them against their parents and their peers, liinl consequently there is an instinctive resistance to studying mid to being “educated”. This is the resistance for which Black (Inldren are confined to educationally subnormal schools in lii il.iin.7 The European working class child, like the Black working class child, sees in the teacher somebody who is teach-IIIH him or her something against her mother and father, not as (i defense of the child but as an attack on the class. Capitalism (> (lie first productive system where the children of the exploited are disciplined and educated in institutions organized mid controlled by the ruling class.8 I The final proof that this alien indoctrination which begins in nursery school is based on the splitting of the family is that those working class children who arrive (those few who do arrive) at university are so brainwashed that they are unable any longer to talk to their community.
Working class children then are the first who instinctively rebel against schools and the education provided in schools. But their parents carry them to schools and confine them to schools because they are concerned that their children should “have an education”, that is, be equipped to escape the assembly line or the kitchen to which they, the parents, are confined. If a working class child shows particular aptitudes, the whole family immediately concentrates on this child, gives him the best conditions, often sacrificing the others, hoping and gambling that he will carry them all out of the working class. This in effect becomes the way capital moves through the aspirations of the parents to enlist their help in disciplining fresh labor power. In Italy parents less and less succeed in sending their children to school. Children’s resistance to school is always increasing even when this resistance is not yet organized. At the same time that the resistance of children grows to being educated in schools, so does their refusal to accept the definition that capital has given of their age. Children want everything they see; they do not yet understand that in order to have things one must pay for them, and in order to pay for them one must have a wage, and therefore one must also be an adult. No wonder it is not easy to explain to children why they cannot have what television has told them they cannot live without. But something is happening among the new generation of children and youth which is making it steadily more difficult to explain to them the arbitrary point at which they reach adulthood. Rather the younger generation is demonstrating their age to us: in the sixties six-year-olds have already come up against police dogs in the South of the United States. Today we find the same phenomenon in Southern Italy and Northern Ireland, where children have been as active in the revolt as adults. When children (and women) are recognized as integral to history, no doubt other examples will come to light of very young people’s participation (and of women’s) in revolutionary struggles. What is new is the autonomy of their participation in spite of and because of their exclusion from direct production. In the factories youth refuse the leadership of older workers, and in the revolts in the cities they are the diamond point. In the metropolis generations of the nuclear family have produced youth and student movements that have initiated the process of shaking the framework of constituted power: in the Third World the unemployed youth rtl’u often in the streets before the working class organized in (rude unions. It is worth recording what The Times of London (1 June 1971) reported concerning a headteachers’ meeting called because one of them was admonished for hitting a pupil: “Disruptive and irresponsible elements lurk around every corner with the seemingly pl.inned intention of eroding all forces of authority.” This “is u plot to destroy the values on which our civilization is built and on which our schools are some of the finest bastions.” The exploitation of the wageless We wanted to make these few comments on the attitude of revolt that is steadily spreading among children and youth, especially from the working class and particularly Black people, because we believe this to be intimately connected with the explosion of the women’s movement and something which the Women’s movement itself must take into account. We are dealing with the revolt of those who have been excluded, who have been separated by the system of production, and who express in action their need to destroy the forces that stand in tin’ way of their social existence, but who this time are coming together as individuals. Women and children have been excluded. The revolt of the one against exploitation through exclusion is an index of the revolt of the other. To the extent to which capital has recruited the man and turned him into a wage laborer, it has created a fracture between him and all the other proletarians without a wage who, not participating directly in social production, were thus presumed incapable of being the subjects of social revolt.
Since Marx, it has been clear that capital rules and develops through the wage, that is, that the foundation of capitalist society was the wage laborer and his or her direct exploitation. What has been neither clear nor assumed by the organizations of the working class movement is that precisely through the wage has the exploitation of the non-wage laborer been organized. This exploitation has been even more effective because the lack of a wage hid it. That is, the wage commanded a larger amount of labor than appeared in factory bargaining. Where women are concerned, their labor appears to be a personal service outside of capital. The woman seemed only to be suffering from male chauvinism, being pushed around because capitalism meant general “injustice” and “bad and unreasonable behavior”; the few (men) who noticed convinced us that this was “oppression” but not exploitation. But “oppression” hid another and more pervasive aspect of capitalist society. Capital excluded children from the home and sent them to school not only because they are in the way of others’ more “productive” labor or only to indoctrinate them. The rule of capital through the wage compels every ablebodied person to function, under the law of division of labor, and to function in ways that are if not immediately, then ultimately profitable to the expansion and extension of the rule of capital. That, fundamentally, is the meaning of school. Where children are concerned, their labor appears to be learning for their own benefit. Proletarian children have been forced to undergo the same education in the schools: this is capitalist levelling against the infinite possibilities of learning. Woman on the other hand has been isolated in the home, forced to carry out work that is considered unskilled, the work of giving birth to, raising, disciplining, and servicing the worker for production. Her role in the cycle of social production remained invisible because only the product of her labor, the laborer, was visible there. She herself was thereby trapped within pre-capitalist working conditions and never paid a wage. And when we say “pre-capitalist working”conditions” we do not refer only to women who have to use brooms to sweep. Even the best equipped American kitchens do not reflect the present level of technological development; at most they reflect the technology of the 19th century. If you are not paid by the hour, within certain limits, nobody cares how long it takes you to do your work. I’ll is is not only a quantitative but a qualitative difference from other work, and it stems precisely from the kind of commodity that this work is destined to produce. Within the capitalist system generally, the productivity of labor doesn’t increase Unless there is a confrontation between capital and class: technological innovations and co-operation are at the same time moments of attack for the working class and moments of capitalistic response. But if this is true for the production of commodities generally, this has not been true for the production of that special kind of commodity, labor power. If technological innovation can lower the limit of necessary work, and if the working class struggle in industry can use that innovation for gaining free hours, the same cannot be said of housework; to the extent that she must in isolation procreate, raise and be responsible for children, a high mechanization of domestic chores doesn’t free any time for the woman. She is always on duty, for the machine doesn’t exist that makes and minds children.9 A higher productivity of domestic work through mechanization, then, can be related only to specific services, for example, cooking, washing, cleaning. Her workday is unending not because she has no machines, but because she is isolated.10
Confirming the myth of female incapacity
With the advent of the capitalist mode of production, then, women were relegated to a condition of isolation, enclosed within the family cell, dependent in every aspect on men. The new autonomy of the free wage slave was denied her, and she remained in a pre-capitalist stage of personal dependence, but this time more brutalized because in contrast to the large-scale highly socialized production which now prevails. Woman’s apparent incapacity to do certain things, to understand certain tilings, originated in her history, which is a history very similar in certain respects to that of “backward” children in specialist classes. To the extent that women were cut off from direct socialized production and isolated in the home, all possibilities of social life outside the neighborhood were denied them, and hence they were deprived of social knowledge and social education. When women are deprived of wide experience of organizing and planning collectively industrial and other mass struggles, they are denied a basic source of education, the experience of social revolt. And this experience is primarily the experience of learning your own capacities, that is, your power, and the capacities, the power, of your class. Thus the isolation from which women have suffered has confirmed to society and to themselves the myth of female incapacity. It is this myth which has hidden, firstly, that to the degree that the working class has been able to organize mass struggles in the community, rent strikes, struggles against inflation generally, the basis has always been the unceasing informal organization of women there; secondly, that in struggles in the cycle of direct production women’s support and organization, formal and informal, has been decisive. At critical moments this unceasing network of women surfaces and develops through the talents, energies and strength of the “incapable female”. But the myth does not die. Where women could together with men claim the victory-to survive (during unemployment) or to survive and win (during strikes)- the spoils of the victor belonged to the class “in general”. Women rarely if ever got anything specifically for themselves; rarely if ever did the struggle have as an objective in any way altering the power structure of the home and its relation to the factory. Strike or unemployment, a woman’s work is never done. The capitalist function of the uterus Never as with the advent of capitalism has the destruction of woman as a person meant also the immediate diminution of her physical integrity. Feminine and masculine sexuality had already before capitalism undergone a series of regimes and forms of conditioning. But they had also undergone efficient methods of birth control, which have unaccountably disappeared. Capital established the family as the nuclear family and subordinated within it the woman to the man, as the person who, not directly participating in social production, does not present herself independently on the labor market. As it cuts off all her possibilities of creativity and of the development of her working activity, so it cuts off the expression of her sexual, psychological lid emotional autonomy. We repeat: never had such a stunting of the physical integrity woman taken place, affecting everything from the brain to the uterus. Participating with others in the production of a train, a mi or an airplane is not the same thing as using in isolation the same broom in the same few square feet of kitchen for centuries. This is not a call for equality of men and women in the construction of airplanes, but it is merely to assume that the difference between the two histories not only determines the differences in the actual forms of struggle but brings also finally to light what has been invisible for so long: the different forms women’s struggles have assumed in the past. In the same way as women are robbed of the possibility of developing their creative capacity, they are robbed of their sexual life which has been transformed into a function for reproducing labor power: the same observations which we made on the technological level of domestic services apply to birth control (and, by the way, to the whole field of gynaecology), research into which until recently has been continually neglected, while women have been forced to have children and were forbidden the right to have abortions when, as was to be expected, the most primitive techniques of birth control failed. From this complete diminution of woman, capital constructed the female role, and has made the man in the family the instrument of this reduction. The man as wage worker and head of the family was the specific instrument of this specific exploitation which is the exploitation of women. The homosexuality of the division of labour
In this sense we can explain to what extent the degraded relationships between men and women are determined by the fracturing that society has imposed between man and woman, subordinating woman as object, the “complement” to man. And in this sense we can see the validity of the explosion of tendencies within the women’s movement in which women want to conduct their struggle against men as such11 and no longer wish to use their strength to sustain even sexual relationships with them, since each of these relationships is always frustrating. A power relation precludes any possibility of affection and intimacy. Yet between men and women power as its right commands sexual affection and intimacy. In this sense, the gay movement is the most massive attempt to disengage sexuality and power. But homosexuality generally is at the same time rooted in the framework of capitalist society itself: women at home and men in factories and offices, separated one from the other for the whole day; or a typical factory of 1,000 women with 10 foremen; or a typing pool (of women, of course) which works for 50 professional men. All these situations are already a homosexual framework of living. Capital, while it elevates heterosexuality to a religion, at the same time in practice makes it impossible for men and women to be in touch with each other, physically or emotionally-it undermines heterosexuality except as a sexual, economic and social discipline. We believe that this is a reality from which we must begin. The explosion of the gay tendencies have been and are important for the movement precisely because they pose the urgency to claim for itself the specificity of women’s struggle and above all to clarify in all their depths all facets and connections of the exploitation of women. Surplus value and the social factory At this point then we would like to begin to clear the ground of a certain point of view which orthodox Marxism, especially in the ideology and practice of so-called Marxist parties, has always taken for granted. And this is: when women remain outside social production, that is, outside the socially organized productive cycle, they are also outside social productivity. The role of women, in other words, has always been seen as that of a psychologically subordinated person who, except where she is marginally employed outside the home, is outside production; essentially a supplier of a series of use values in the home. This basically was the viewpoint of Marx who, observing what happened to women working in the factories, concluded that it might have been better for them to be at home, where resided a morally higher form of life. But the true nature of the role of housewife never emerges clearly in Marx. Yet observers have noted that Lancashire women, cotton workers for over a century, are more sexually free and helped by men in domestic chores. On the other hand, in the Yorkshire coal mining districts where s low percentage of women worked outside the home, women are more dominated by the figure of the husband. Even those who have been able to define the exploitation of women in socialised production could not then go on to understand the exploited position of women in the home; men are too compromised in their relationship with women. For that reason only women can define themselves and move on the woman question. We have to make clear that, within the wage, domestic work produces not merely use values, but is essential to the production of surplus value. This is true of the entire female role as a personality which is subordinated at all levels, physical, psychical and occupational, which has had and continues to have a precise and vital place in the capitalist division of labor, in pursuit of productivity at the social level. Let us examine more specifically the role of women as a source of social productivity, that is, of surplus value making. Firstly within the family.
A. THE PRODUCTIVITY OF WAGE SLAVERY BASED ON UNWAGED SLAVERY
It is often asserted that, within the definition of wage labor, women in domestic labor are not productive. In fact precisely the opposite is true if one thinks of the enormous quantity of social services which capitalist organization transforms into privatized activity, putting them on the backs of housewives. Domestic labor In not essentially “feminine work”; a woman doesn’t fulfill herself more or get less exhausted than a man from washing and cleaning. These are social services inasmuch as they serve the reproduction (if labor power. And capital, precisely by instituting its family
structure, has “liberated” the man from these functions so that he is completely “free” for direct exploitation; so that he is free to “earn” enough for a woman to reproduce him as labor power.13 It has made men wage slaves, then, to the degree that it has succeeded in allocating these services to women in the family, and by the same process controlled the flow of women onto the labor market. In Italy women are still necessary in the home and capital still needs this form of the family. At the present level of development in Europe generally, in Italy in particular, capital still prefers to import its labor power-in the form of millions of men from underdeveloped areas-while at the same time consigning women to the home.14 And women are of service not only because they carry out domestic labor without a wage and without going on strike, but also because they always receive back into the home all those who are periodically expelled from their jobs by economic crisis. The family, this maternal cradle always ready to help and protect in time of need, has been in fact the best guarantee that the unemployed do not immediately become a horde of disruptive outsiders. The organized parties of the working class movement have been careful not to raise the question of domestic work. Aside from the fact that they have always treated women as a lower form of life, even in factories, to raise this question would be to challenge the whole basis of the trade unions as organizations that deal (a) only with the factory; (b) only with a measured and “paid” work day; (c) only with that side of wages which is given to us and not with the side of wages which is taken back, that is, inflation. Women have always been forced by the working class parties to put off their liberation to some hypothetical future, making it dependent on the gains that men, limited in the scope of their struggles by these parties, win for “themselves”. In reality, every phase of working class struggle has fixed the subordination and exploitation of women at a higher level. The proposal of pensions for housewives and this makes us wonder why not a wage) serves only to show the complete willingness of these parties further to institutionalize women as housewives and men (and women) as wage slaves.
Now it is clear that not one of us believes that emancipation, liberation, can be achieved through work. Work is still work, whether inside or outside the home. The independence of the Wage earner means only being a “free individual” for capital, no less for women than for men. Those who advocate that the (liberation of the-working class woman lies in her getting a job outside the home are part of the problem, not the solution. Slavery to an assembly line is not a liberation from slavery to a kitchen sink. To deny this is also to deny the slavery of the assembly line itself, proving again that if you don’t know how women are exploited, you can never really know how men are. But this question is so crucial that we deal with it separately. What we wish to make clear here is that by the non-payment of a wage when we are producing in a world capitalistically organized, llu- figure of the boss is concealed behind that of the husband. He appears to be the sole recipient of domestic services, and this gives an ambiguous and slavelike character to housework. The husband and children, through their loving involvement, their loving blackmail, become the first foremen, the immediate controllers of this labor. The husband tends to read the paper and wait for his dinner to be cooked and served, even when his wife goes out to work as he does and comes home with him. Clearly, the specific form of exploitation represented by domestic work demands a correspondingly specific form of struggle, namely the women’s struggle, within the family. II we fail to grasp completely that precisely this family is the very pillar of the capitalist organization of work, if we make the mistake of regarding it only as a superstructure, dependent for fli.mge only on the stages of the struggle in the factories, then we will be moving in a limping revolution that will always perpetuate and aggravate a basic contradiction in the class struggle, and a Contradiction which is functional to capitalist development. We would, in other words, be perpetuating the error of considering ourselves as producers of use values only, of considering housewives external to the working class. As long as housewives are considered external to the class, the class struggle at every moment and any point is impeded, frustrated, and unable to find full scope for its action. To elaborate this further is not our task here. To expose and condemn domestic work as a masked form of productive labor, however, raises a series of questions concerning both the aims and the forms of struggle of women. Socializing the struggle of the isolated laborer In fact, the demand that would follow, namely “pay us wages for housework”, would run the risk of looking, in the light of the present relationship of forces in Italy, as though we wanted further to entrench the condition of institutionalized slavery which is produced with the condition of housework””therefore such a demand could scarcely operate in practice as a mobilizing goal.16 The question is, therefore, to develop forms of struggle which do not leave the housewife peacefully at home, at most ready to take part in occasional demonstrations through the streets, waiting for a wage that would never pay for anything; rather we must discover forms of struggle which immediately break the whole structure of domestic work, rejecting it absolutely, rejecting our role as housewives and the home as the ghetto of our existence, since [he problem is not only to stop doing this work, but to smash the entire role of housewife. The starting point is not how to do housework more efficiently, but how to find a place as protagonist in the struggle, that is, not a higher productivity of domestic labor but a higher subversiveness in the struggle. To immediately overthrow the relation between time-given-to-housework and time-not-given-to-housework: it is not necessary to spend time each day ironing sheets and curtains, cleaning the floor until it sparkles nor to dust every day. And yet many women still do that. Obviously it is not because they are stupid: once again we are reminded of the parallel we made earlier with the ESN school. In reality, it is only in this work that they can realize an identity precisely because, as we said before, capital has cut them off from the process of socially organized production. But it does not automatically follow that to be cut off from socialized production is to be cut off from socialized struggle: struggle, however, demands time away from housework, and at the same time it offers an alternative identity to the woman who before found it only at the level of the domestic ghetto.
In the sociality of struggle women discover and exercise a power that effectively gives them a new identity. The new identity is and can only be a new degree of social power. The possibility of social struggle arises out of the socially productive character of women’s work in the home. It is not only or mainly the social services provided in the home that make women’s role socially productive, even though in fact at this moment these services are identified with women’s role. But capital can technologically improve the conditions of this work. Whilst capital does not want to do for the time being, in Italy at least, is to destroy the position of the housewife as the pivot of the nuclear family. For this reason there is no point in our waiting for the automation of domestic work, because this will never happen: the maintenance of the nuclear family is in compatible with the automation of these services. To really automate them, capital would have to destroy the family as we know it; that is, it would be driven to socialize in order to automate fully. Hut we know all too well what their socialization means: it is always at the very least the opposite of the Paris Commune! The new leap that capitalist reorganization could make and that we can already smell in the U.S. and in the more advanced capitalist countries generally is to destroy the pre-capitalist relation of production in the home by constructing a family winch more nearly reflects capitalist equality and its domination through co-operative labor; to transcend “the incompleteness of capitalist development” in the home, with the pre-capitalist, Unfree woman as its pivot, and make the family more nearly reflect in its form its capitalist productive function, the reproduction of labor power. To return then to what we said above: women, housewives, identifying themselves with the home, tend to a compulsive perfection in their work. We all know the saying too well: you can always find work to do in a house.
They don’t see beyond their own four walls. The housewife’s situation as a pre-capitalist mode of labor and consequently this “femininity” imposed upon her, makes her see the world, the others and the entire organization of work as a something which is obscure, essentially unknown and unknowable; not lived; perceived only as a shadow behind the shoulders of the husband who goes out each day and meets this something. So when we say that women must overthrow the relation of domestic-work-time to non-domestic-time and must begin to move out of the home, we mean their point of departure must be precisely this willingness to destroy the role of housewife, in order to begin to come together with other women, not only as neighbors and friends but as workmates and anti-workmates; thus breaking the tradition of privatized female, with all its rivalry, and reconstructing a real solidarity among women: not solidarity for defense but solidarity for attack, for the organization of the struggle. A common solidarity against a common form of labor. In the same way, women must stop meeting their husbands and children only as wife and mother, that is, at mealtime after they have come home from the outside world. Every place of struggle outside the home, precisely because every sphere of capitalist organization presupposes the home, offers a chance for attack by women; factory meetings, neighborhood meetings, student assemblies, each of them are legitimate places for women’s struggle, where women can encounter and confront men””women versus men, if you like, but as individuals, rather than mother-father, son-daughter, with all the possibilities this offers to explode outside of the house the contradictions, the frustrations, that capital has wanted to implode within the family. A new compass for class struggle If women demand in workers’ assemblies that the night-shift be abolished because at night, besides sleeping, one wants to make love-and it’s not the same as making love during the day if the women work during the day – that would be advancing their own independent interests as women against the social organization of work, refusing to be unsatisfied mothers for their husbands and children.
But in this new intervention and confrontation women are also expressing that their interests as women are not, as they have been told, separate and alien from the interests of the class. F or too long political parties, especially of the left, and trade unions have determined and confined the areas of working class struggle. To make love and to refuse night work to make love, is in the interest of the class. To explore why it is women and not men who raise the question is to shed new light on the whole history of the class. To meet your sons and daughters at a student assembly is to discover them as individuals who speak among other individuals; it is too present yourself to them as an individual. Many women have had abortions and very many have given birth. We can’t see why they should not express their point of view as women first, whether or not they are students, in an assembly of medical students. (We do not give the medical faculty as an example by accident. In the lecture hall and in the clinic, we can see once more the exploitation of the working class not only when third class patients exclusively are made the guinea pigs for research. Women especially are the prime objects of experimentation and also of the sexual contempt, sadism, and professional arrogance of doctors.) To sum up: the most important thing becomes precisely this explosion of the women’s movement as an expression of the specificity of female interests hitherto castrated from all its connections by the capitalist organization of the family. This has to be waged in every quarter of this society, each of which is founded precisely on the suppression of such interests, since the entire class exploitation has been built upon the specific mediation of women’s exploitation. And so as a women’s movement we must pinpoint every single area in which this exploitation is located, that is, we must regain the whole specificity of the female interest in the course of waging the struggle.
Every opportunity is a good one: housewives of families threatened with eviction can object that their housework has more than covered the rent of the months they didn’t pay. On the out-skirts of Milan, many families have already taken up this form of struggle. Electric appliances in the home are lovely things to have, but for the workers who make them, to make many is to spend time and to exhaust yourself. That every wage has to buy all of them is tough, and presumes that every wife must run all these appliances alone; and this only means that she is frozen in the home, but now on a more mechanized level. Lucky worker, lucky wife! The question is not to have communal canteens. We must remember that capital makes Fiat for the workers first, then their canteen. For this reason to demand a communal canteen in the neighborhood without integrating this demand into a practice of struggle against the organization of labor, against labor time, risks giving the impetus for a new leap that, on the community level, would regiment none other than women in some alluring work so that we will then have the possibility at lunchtime of eating shit collectively in the canteen. We want them to know that this is not the canteen we want, nor do we want play centers or nurseries of the same order. We want canteens too, and nurseries and washing machines and dishwashers, but we also want choices: to eat in privacy with few people when we want, to have time to be with children, to be with old people, with the sick, when and where we choose. To “have time” means to work less. To have time to be with children, the old and the sick does not mean running to pay a quick visit to the garages where you park children or old people or invalids. It means that we, the first to be excluded, are taking the initiative in this struggle so that all those other excluded people, the children, the old and the ill, can re-appropriate the social wealth; to be re-integrated with us and all of us with men, not as dependents but autonomously, as we women want for ourselves; since their exclusion, like ours, from the directly productive social process, from social existence, has been created by capitalist organization.
The refusal of work
Hence we must refuse housework as women’s work, as work imposed upon us, which we never invented, which has never been paid for, in which they have forced us to cope with absurd hours, 12 and 13 a day, in order to force us to stay at home. We must get out of the house; we must reject the home, because we want to unite with other women, to struggle against all situations which presume that women will stay at home, to link ourselves to the struggles of all those who are in ghettos, whether the ghetto is a nursery, a school, a hospital, an old-age home, or asylum. To abandon the home is already a form of struggle, since the social services we perform there would then cease to be carried out in those conditions, and so all those who work out of the home would then demand that the burden carried by us until now be thrown squarely where it belongs-onto the shoulders of capital. This alteration in the terms of struggle will be all the more violent the more the refusal of domestic labor on the part of women will be violent, determined and on a mass scale. The working class family is the more difficult point to break because it is the support of the worker, but as worker, and for that reason the support of capital. On this family depends the support of the class, the survival of the class – but at the woman’s expense against the class itself. The woman is the slave of a wage-slave, and her slavery ensures the slavery of her man. Like the trade union, the family protects the worker, but also ensures that he and she will never be anything but workers. And that is why the struggle of the woman of the working class against the family is crucial. To meet other women who work inside and outside their homes allows us to possess other chances of struggle. To the extent that our struggle is a struggle against work, it is inscribed in the struggle which the working class wages against capitalist work. But to the extent that the exploitation of women through domestic work has had its own specific history, tied to the survival of the nuclear family, the specific course of this struggle which must pass through the destruction of the nuclear family as established by the capitalist social order, adds a new dimension to the class struggle.
B. THE PRODUCTIVITY OF PASSIVITY
However, the woman’s role in the family is not only that of hidden supplier of social services who does not receive a wage. As we said at the beginning, to imprison women in purely complementary functions and subordinate them to men within the nuclear family has as its premise the stunting of their physical integrity. In Italy, with the successful help of the Catholic Church which has always defined her as an inferior being, a woman is compelled before marriage into sexual abstinence and after marriage into a repressed sexuality destined only to bear children, obliging her to bear children. It has created a female image of “heroic mother and happy wife” whose sexual identity is pure sublimation, whose function is essentially that of receptacle for other people’s emotional expression, who is the cushion of the familial antagonism. What has been defined, then, as female frigidity has to be redefined as an imposed passive receptivity in the sexual function as well. Now this passivity of the woman in the family is itself “productive”. Firstly it makes her the outlet for all the oppressions that men suffer in the world outside the home and at the same time the object on whom the man can exercise a hunger for power that the domination of the capitalist organization of work implants. In this sense, the woman becomes productive for capitalist organization; she acts as a safety valve for the social tensions caused by it. Secondly, the woman becomes productive inasmuch as the complete denial of her personal autonomy forces her to sublimate her frustration in a series of continuous needs that are always centered in the home, a kind of consumption which is the exact parallel of her compulsive perfectionism in her housework. Clearly, it is not our job to tell women what they should have in their homes. Nobody can define the needs of others. Our interest is to organize the struggle through which this sublimation will be unnecessary.
Dead labor and the agony of sexuality
We use the word “sublimation” advisedly. The frustrations of monotonous and trivial chores and of sexual passivity are only separable in words. Sexual creativity and creativity in labor are both areas where human need demands we give free scope to our ‘interplaying natural and acquired activities’18. For women (and therefore for men) natural and acquired powers are repressed simultaneously. The passive sexual receptivity of women creates compulsively tidy housewife and can make a monotonous assembly line therapeutic. The trivia of most of housework and discipline which is required to perform the same work over every day, every week, every year, double on holidays, destroys the possibilities of uninhibited sexuality. Our childhood is a preparation for martyrdom: we are taught to derive happiness from clean sex on whiter than white sheets; to sacrifice sexuality and other creative activity at one and the same time.
So far the women’s movement, most notably by destroying the myth of the vaginal orgasm, has exposed the physical mechanism which allowed women’s sexual potential to be strictly defined and limited by men. Now we can begin to reintegrate sexuality with other aspects of creativity, to see how sexuality will always be constrained unless the work we do does not mutilate us and our individual capacities, and unless the persons with whom we have sexual relations are not our masters and are not also mutilated by their work. To explode the vaginal myth is to demand female autonomy as opposed to subordination and sublimation. But it is not only the clitoris versus the vagina. It is both versus the uterus. Either the vagina is primarily the passage to the reproduction of labor power sold as a commodity, the capitalist function of the uterus, or it is part of our natural powers, our social equipment. Sexuality after all is the most social of expressions, the deepest human communication.
It is in that sense the dissolution of autonomy. The working class organizes as a class to transcend itself as a class; within that class we organize autonomously to create the basis to transcend autonomy.
The “political” attack against women
But while we are finding our way of being and of organizing ourselvs in struggle, we discover we are confronted by those who are only too eager to attack women, even as we form a movement. In defending herself against obliteration, through work and through consumption, they say, the woman is responsible for the lack of unity of the class. Let us make a partial list of the sins of which she stands accused. They say: 1. She wants more of her husband’s wage to buy for example clothes for herself and her children, not based on what he thinks she needs but on what she thinks she and her children should have. He works hard for the money. She only demands another kind of distribution of their lack of wealth, rather than assisting his struggle for more wealth, more wages. 2. She is in rivalry with other women to be more attractive than they, to have more things than they do, and to have a cleaner and tidier house than her neighbors’. She doesn’t ally with them as she should on a class basis. 3. She buries herself in her home and refuses to understand the struggle other husband on the production line. She may even complain when he goes out on strike rather than backing him up. She votes Conservative. These are some of the reasons given by those who consider her reactionary or at best backward, even by men who take leading roles in factory struggles and who seem most able to understand the nature of the social boss because of their militant action. It comes easy to them to condemn women for what they consider to be backwardness because that is the prevailing ideology of the society. They do not add that they have benefitted from women’s subordinate position by being waited on hand and foot from the moment of their birth. Some do not even know that they have been waited on, so natural is it to them for mothers and sisters and daughters to serve “their” men. It is very difficult for us, on the other hand, to separate inbred male supremacy from men’s attack, which appears to be strictly “political”, launched only for the benefit of the class. Let us look at the matter more closely. 1. Women as consumers Women do not make the home the center of consumption. The process of consumption is integral to the production of labor and if women refused to do the shopping (that is, to spend) this would be strike action. Having said that, however, we must add that those social relationships which women are denied because they are cut off from socially organized labor, they often try to compensate for by buying things. Whether it is adjudged trivial depends on the viewpoint and sex of the judge. Intellectuals buy books, but no one calls this consumption trivial. Independent of the validity of the contents, the book in this society still represents, through a tradition older than capitalism, a male value. We have already said that women buy things for their home because that home is the only proof that they exist. But the idea that frugal consumption is in any way a liberation is as old as capitalism, and comes from the capitalists who always blame the worker’s situation on the worker. For years Harlem was told by head- shaking liberals that if Black men would only stop driving Cadillac’s (until the finance company took them back), the problem of color would be solved. Until the violence of the struggle-the only fitting reply””provided a measure of social power, that Cadillac was one of the few ways to display the potential for power. This and not “practical economics” caused the liberals pain. In .my case, nothing any of us buys would we need if we were free. Not the food they poison for us, nor the clothes that identify us by class, sex and generation, nor the houses in which they imprison us. In any case, too, our problem is that we never have enough, not that we have too much. And that pressure which women place on men is a defense of the wage, not an attack. Precisely because women are the slaves of wage slaves, men divide the wage between themselves and the general family expense. If women did not make demands, the general family standard of living would drop to absorb the inflation””the woman of course is the first to do without. Thus unless the woman makes demands, the family is functional to capital in an additional sense to the ones we have listed: it can absorb the fall in the price of labor power.19 This, therefore, is the most ongoing material way in which women can defend the living standards of the class. And when they go out to political meetings, they will need even more money!
2. Women as rivals As for women’s “rivalry”, Frantz Fanon has clarified for the Third World what only racism prevents from being generally applied to the class. The colonized, he says, when they do not organize against their oppressors, attack each other. The woman’s pressure for greater consumption may at times express itself in the form of rivalry, but nevertheless as we have said protects the living standards of the class. Which is unlike women’s sexual rivalry; that rivalry is rooted in their economic and social dependence on men. To the degree that they live for men, dress for men, work for men, they are manipulated by men through this rivalry.20 As for rivalry about their homes, women are trained from birth to be obsessive and possessive about clean and tidy homes. But men cannot have it both ways; they cannot continue to enjoy the privilege of having a private servant and then complain about the effects of privatization. If they continue to complain, we must conclude that their attack on us for rivalry is really an apology for our servitude. If Fanon was not right, that the strife among the colonized is an expression of their low level of organization, then the antagonism is a sign of natural incapacity. When we call a home a ghetto, we could call it a colony governed by indirect rule and be as accurate. The resolution of the antagonism of the colonized to each other lies in autonomous struggle. Women have overcome greater obstacles than rivalry to unite in supporting men in struggles. Where women have been less successful is in transforming and deepening moments of struggle by making of them opportunities to raise their own demands. Autonomous struggle turns the question on its head: not “will women unite to support men”, but “will men unite to support women”.
3. Women as divisive What has prevented previous political intervention by women? Why can they be used in certain circumstances against strikes? Why, in other words, is the class not united? From the beginning of this document we have made central the exclusion of women from socialized production. That is an objective character of capitalist organization: co-operative labor in the factory and isolated labor in the home. This is mirrored subjectively by way workers in industry organize separately from the community. What is the community to do? What are women to do? Support, be appendages to men in the home and in the struggle?, even form a women’s auxiliary to unions. This division, and this kind of division is the history of the class. At every stage of the struggle the most peripheral to the productive cycle are used against those at the center, so long as the latter ignore the former. This is the history of trade unions, for example, in the United States, when Black workers were used as strikebreakers”” never by the way, as often as white workers were led to believe. Blacks like women are immediately identifiable and reports of strikebreaking reinforce prejudices which arise from objective divisions: the white on the assembly line, the Black sweeping round his feet; or the man on the assembly line, the woman sweeping round his feet when he gets home. Men when they reject work consider themselves militant, and when we reject our work, these same men consider us nagging wives. When some of us vote Conservative because we have been excluded from political struggle, they think we are backward, while they have voted for parties which didn’t even consider that we existed as anything but ballast, and in the process sold them (and us all) down the river.
C. THE PRODUCTIVITY OF DISCIPLINE
The third aspect of women’s role in the family is that, because of the special brand of stunting of the personality already discussed, the woman becomes a repressive figure, disciplinarian of all the members of the family, ideologically and psychologically. She may live under the tyranny of her husband, of her home, the tyranny of striving to be “heroic mother and happy wife” when her whole existence repudiates this ideal. Those who are tyrannized and lack power are with the new generation for the first years of their lives producing docile workers and little tyrants, in the same way the teacher does at school. (In this the Woman is joined by her husband: not by chance do parent-teacher associations exist.) Women, responsible for the reproduction of labor power, on the one hand discipline the children who will be workers tomorrow and on the other hand discipline the husband to work today, for only his wage can pay for labor power to be reproduced. Here we have only attempted to consider female domestic productivity without going into detail about the psychological implications. At least we have located and essentially outlined this female domestic productivity as it passes through the complexities of the role that the woman plays (in addition, that is, to the actual domestic work the burden of which she assumes without pay). We pose, then, as foremost the need to break this role that wants women divided from each other, from men and from children, each locked in her family as the chrysalis in the cocoon that imprisons itself by its own work, to die and leave silk for capital. To reject all this, as we have already said, means for housewives to recognize themselves also as a section of the class, the most degraded because they are not paid a wage. The housewife’s position in the overall struggle of women is crucial, since it undermines the very pillar supporting the capitalist organization of work, namely the family. So every goal that tends to affirm the individuality of women against this figure complementary to everything and everybody, that is, the housewife, is worth posing as a goal subversive to the continuation, the productivity of this role. In this same sense all the demands that can serve to restore to the woman the integrity of her basic physical functions, starting with the sexual one which was the first to be robbed along with productive creativity, have to be posed with the greatest urgency. It is not by chance that research in birth control has developed so slowly, that abortion is forbidden almost the world over or conceded finally only for “therapeutic” reasons. To move first on these demands is not facile reformism. Capitalist management of these matters poses over and over discrimination of class and discrimination of women specifically.
Why were proletarian women, Third World women, used as guinea pigs in this research? Why does the question of birth control continue to be posed as women’s problem? To begin to struggle to overthrow the capitalist management over these matters is to move on a class basis, and on a specifically female basis .To link these struggles with the struggle against motherhood conceived as the responsibility of women exclusively, against domestic work conceived as women’s work, ultimately against the models that capitalism offers us as examples of women’s emancipation which are nothing more than ugly copies of the male role, is to struggle against the division and organization of labor. Women and the struggle not to work Let us sum up. The role of housewife, behind whose isolation is hidden social labor, must be destroyed. But our alternatives are strictly defined. Up to now, the myth of female incapacity, rooted in this isolated woman dependent on someone else’s wage and therefore shaped by someone else’s consciousness, has been broken by only one action: the woman getting her own wage, breaking the back of personal economic dependence, making her own independent experience with the world outside the home, performing social labor in a socialized structure, whether the factory or the office, and initiating there her own forms of social rebellion along with the traditional forms of the class. The advent of the women’s movement is a rejection of this alternative. Capital itself is seizing upon the same impetus which created a movement””the rejection by millions of women of women’s traditional place””to recompose the work force with increasing numbers of women. The movement can only develop in opposition to this. It poses by its very existence and must pose with increasing articulation in action that women refuse the myth of liberation through work.
For we have worked enough. We have chopped billions of tons Of cotton, washed billions of dishes, scrubbed billions of floors, typed billions of words, wired billions of radio sets, washed billions of nappies, by hand and in machines. Every time they have “let us in” to some traditionally male enclave, it was to find for us a new level of exploitation. Here again we must make a parallel, different as they are, between underdevelopment in the Third World and underdevelopment in the metropolis””to be more precise, in the kitchens of the metropolis. Capitalist planning proposes to the Third World that it “develop”; that in addition to its present agonies, it too suffer the agony of an industrial counter revolution. Women in the metropolis have been offered the same “aid”. But those of us who have gone out of our homes to work because we had to or for extras or for economic independence have warned the rest: inflation has riveted us to this bloody typing pool or to this assembly line, and in that there is no salvation. We must refuse the development they are offering us. But the struggle of the working woman is not to return to the isolation of the home, appealing as this sometimes may be on Monday morning; any more than the housewife’s struggle is to exchange being imprisoned in a house for being clinched to desks or machines, appealing as this sometimes may be compared to the loneliness of the 12th story flat. Women must completely discover their own possibilities”” which are neither mending socks nor becoming captains of ocean-going ships. Better still, we may wish to do these things, but these now cannot be located anywhere but in the history of capital. The challenge to the women’s movement is to find modes of struggle which, while they liberate women from the home, at the same time avoid on the one hand a double slavery and on the other prevent another degree of capitalistic control and regimentation. This ultimately is the dividing line between reformism and revolutionary politics within the women’s movement. It seems that there have been few women of genius. There could not be since, cut off from the social process, we cannot see on what matters they could exercise their genius. Now there is a matter, the struggle itself. Freud said also that every woman from birth suffers from penis
He forgot to add that this feeling of envy begins from the moment when she perceives that in some way to have a penis means to have power. Even less did he realize that the traditional power of the penis commenced upon a whole new history at the very moment when the separation of man from woman became a capitalistic division.
And this is where our struggle begins. Mariarosa Dalla Costa & Selma James 29 December 1971
1 This happened as part of the massive demonstration of women celebrating International Women’s Day in the US, August 1970. 2 This is to assume a whole new meaning for “education”, and the work now being done on the history of compulsory education – forced learning- proves this. In England teachers were conceived of as “moral police” who could 1)condition children against “crime”””curb working class reappropriation in the community; 2) destroy “the mob”, working class organization based on family which was still either a productive unit or at least a viable organizational unit; 3) make habitual regular attendance and good timekeeping so necessary to children’s later employment; and 4) stratify the class by grading and selection. As with the family itself, the transition to this new form of muni control was not smooth and direct, and was the result of contradictory (rices both within the class and within capital, as with every phase of the his-laity of capitalism. 3 Wage labor is based on the subordination of all relationships to the wage relation. The worker must enter as an “individual” into a contract with capital stripped of the protection of kinships. 4 Karl Marx, “Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of the State”, Writings of the Young Marx on Philosophy and Society, ed. and trans. Lloyd D. Easton and Kurt H. Guddat, N.Y., 1967, p.176.
5 We are not dealing here with the narrowness of the nuclear family that prevents children from having an easy transition to forming relations with other people; nor with what follows from this, the argument of psychologists that proper conditioning would have avoided such a crisis. We are dealing with the entire organization of the society, of which family, school and factory are each one ghettoized compartment. So every kind of passage from one to another of these compartments is a painful passage. The pain cannot be eliminated by tinkering with the relations between one ghetto and another but only by the destruction of every ghetto. 6 “Free fares, free lunches, free books” was one of the slogans of a section of the Italian students movement which aimed to connect the struggle of younger students with workers and university students. 7 In Britain and the US the psychologists Eysenck and Jensen, who are convinced “scientifically” that Blacks have a lower “intelligence” than whites, and the progressive educators like Ivan Illyich seem diametrically opposed. What they aim to achieve links them. They are divided by method. In any case the psychologists are not more racist than the rest, only more direct. “Intelligence” is the ability to assume your enemy’s case as wisdom and to shape your own logic on the basis of this. Where the whole society operates institutionally on the assumption of white racial superiority, these psychologists propose more conscious and thorough “conditioning” so that children who do not learn to read do not learn instead to make molotov cocktails. A sensible view with which Illyich, who is concerned with the “underachievement” of children (that is, rejection by them of “intelligence”), can agree. 8 In spite of the fact that capital manages the schools, control is never given once and for all. The working class continually and increasingly challenges the contents and refuses the costs of capitalist schooling. The response of the capitalist system is to re-establish its own control, and this control tends to be more and more regimented on factory-like lines. The new policies on education which are being hammered out even as we write, however, are more complex than this. We can only indicate here the impetus for these new policies: (a) Working class youth reject that education prepares them for anything but a factory, even if they will wear white collars there and use typewriters and drawing boards instead of riveting machines. (b) Middle class youth reject the role of mediator between the classes and the repressed personality this mediating role demands. (c) A new labor power more wage and status differentiated is called for. The present egalitarian trend must be reversed. (d) A new type of labor process may be created which will attempt to interest the worker in “participating” instead of refusing the monotony and fragmentation of the present assembly line. If the traditional “road to success” and even “success” itself are rejected by the young, new goals will have to be found to which they can aspire, that is, for which they will go to school and go to work. New “experiments” in “free” education, where the children are encouraged to participate in planning their own education and there is greater democracy between teacher and taught are springing up daily. It is an illusion to believe that this is a defeat for capital any more than regimentation will be a victory. For in the creation of a labor power more creatively manipulated, capital will not in the process lose 0.1% of profit. “As a matter of fact,” they are in effect saying, “you can be far more efficient for us if you take your own road, so long as it is through our territory.” In some parts of the factory and in the social factory, capital’s slogan will increasingly be “Liberty and fraternity to guarantee and even extend equality.” 9 We are not at all ignoring the attempts at this moment to make test-tube hahics. But today such mechanisms belong completely to capitalist science rtfid control. The use would be completely against us and against the class. It is not in our interest to abdicate procreation, to consign it to the hands of the enemy. It is in our interest to conquer the freedom to procreate for which we will pay neither the price of the wage nor the price of social exclusion. 10 To the extent that not technological innovation but only “human care” can raise children, the effective liberation from domestic work time, the qualative change of domestic work, can derive only from a movement of women, from a struggle of women: the more the movement grows, the less men””and first of all political militants-can count on female babyminding. And at the same time the new social ambiance that the movement constructs offers to children social space, with both men and women, that has nothing to do vith the day care centers organized by the State. These are already victories of struggle. Precisely because they are the results of a movement that is by its nature a struggle, they do not aim to substitute any kind of co-operation for the struggle itself.
11 It is impossible to say for how long these tendencies will continue to drive ill® movement forward and when they will turn into their opposite. 12 Some first readers in English have found that this definition of women’s ‘vork should be more precise. What we meant precisely is that housework as vork is productive in the Marxian sense, that is, is producing surplus value. We speak immediately after about the productivity of the entire female i)lc. To make clearer the productivity of the woman both as related to her vork and as related to her entire role must wait for a later text on which we are now at work. In this the woman’s place is explained in a more articulated by from the point of view of the entire capitalist circuit.
13 See Introduction p.l1. Labor power “is a strange commodity for this is not a thing. The ability to labor resides only in a human being whose life is consumed in the process of producing…To describe its basic production and reproduction is to describe women’s work.”
14 This, however, is being countered by an opposite tendency, to bring women into industry in certain particular sectors. Differing needs of capital within the line geographical sector have produced differing and even opposing propaganda and policies. Where in the past family stability has been based on a relative-standardized mythology (policy and propaganda being uniform and official-uncontested), today various sectors of capital contradict each other and undermine the very definition of family as a stable, unchanging, “natural” unit. The classic example of this is the variety of views and financial policies on birth control. The British government has recently doubled its allocation of funds for this purpose. We must examine to what extent this policy is connected with a racist immigration policy, that is, manipulation of the sources of mature labor power; and with the increasing erosion of the work ethic which results in movements of the unemployed and unsupported mothers, that is, controlling births which pollute the purity of capital with revolutionary children. 15 Which is the policy, among others, of the Communist Party in Italy who for some years proposed a bill to the Italian parliament which would have give a pension to women at home, both housewives and single women, when they reached 55 years of age. The bill was never passed. 16 Today the demand of wages for housework is put forward increasingly and with less opposition in the women’s movement in Italy and elsewhere. Since this document was first drafted (June ’71), the debate has become more profound and many uncertainties that were due to the relative newness of the discussion have been dispelled. But above all, the weight of the needs of proletarian women has not only radicalized the demands of the movement. It has also given us greater strength and confidence to advance them. A year agn at the beginning of the movement in Italy, there were those who still thought that the State could easily suffocate the female rebellion against housework by “paying” it with a monthly allowance of£7-£8 as they had already done especially with those “wretched of the earth” who were dependent on pensions. Now these uncertainties are largely dissipated. And it is clear in any case that the demand for a wage for housework is only a basis, a perspective, from which to start, whose merit is essentially to link immediately female oppression, subordination and isolation to their material foundation: female exploitation. At this moment this is perhaps the major function of the demand of wages for housework. This gives at once an indication for struggle, a direction in organizational terms in which oppression and exploitation, situation of caste and class, find themselves insolubly linked. The practical, continuous translation of this perspective is the task the movement is facing in Italy and elsewhere. 17 There has been some confusion over what we have said about canteens. A similar confusion expressed itself in the discussions in other countries as well as Italy about wages for housework. As we explained earlier, housework is as institutionalized as factory work and our ultimate goal is to destroy both institutions. But aside from which demand we are speaking about, there is a misunderstanding of what a demand is. It is a goal which is not only a thing but, like capita) at any moment, essentially a stage of antagonism of a social relation. Whether the canteen or the wages we win will be a victory or a defeat depends on the force of our struggle. On that force depends whether the goal is an occasion for capital to more rationally command our labor or an occasion for us to weaken their hold on that command. What form the goal hikes when we achieve it, whether it is wages or canteens or free birth control, emerges and is in fact created in the struggle, and registers the degree of power that we reached in that struggle. 18 Karl Marx, Das Kapital, Kritik der politischen Okonomie, Band 1, Berlin, Dietz, Verlag, 1962, p.5 12. “Large-scale industry makes it a question of life mid death to replace that monstrosity which is a miserable available working population, kept in reserve for the changing needs of exploitation by capital, In replace this with the absolute availability of the individual for changing requisites of work; to replace the partial individual, a mere bearer of a social detail function, with the fully developed individual for whom varied social functions are modes of interplaying natural and acquired activities.” 19 “But the other, more fundamental, objection, which we shall develop in the ensuing chapters, flows from our disputing the assumption that the general level of real wages is directly determined by the character of the wage bargain . ..We shall endeavor to show that primarily it is certain other forces which determine the general level of real wages … We shall argue that there has been a fundamental misunderstanding of bow in this respect the economy in which we live actually works.” (Emphasis added.) The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, John Maynard Keynes, N.Y., Harcourt, Brace and World, 1964, p. 13. “Certain other forces”, in our view, are first of all. women.
20 It has been noticed that many of the Bolsheviks after 1917 found female partners among the dispossessed aristocracy. When power continues to it-side in men both at the level of the State and in individual relations, women continue to be “the spoil and handmaid of communal lust” (Karl Max, economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1959, p.94). The breed of “the new tsars” goes back a long way. Already in 1921 from “Decisions of the Third Congress of the Communist International”, one can read in Part I of “Work Among Women”: “The Third Congress of the Comintern confirms the basic proposition of revolutionary Marxism, that is, that there is no ‘specific woman question’ and no ‘specific women’s movement’, and that every sort of alliance of working women with bourgeois feminism, as well as any support by the women workers of the treacherous tactics of the social compromisers and opportunists, leads to the undermining of the forces of the proletariat … In order to put an end to women’s slavery it is necessary to inaugurate the new Communist organization of society.” The theory being male, the practice was to “neutralize”. Let us quote from one of the founding fathers. At the first National Conference of Communist Women of the Communist Party of Italy on March 26, 1922, “Comrade Gramsci pointed out that special action must be organized among housewives, who constitute the large majority of the proletarian women. He aid that they should be related in some way to our movement by our setting up special organizations. Housewives, as far as the quality of their work IN concerned, can be considered similar to the artisans and therefore they will hardly be communists; however, because they are the workers’ mates, and because they share in some way the workers’ life, they are attracted toward communism. Our propaganda can therefore have an influence over [sic j these housewives; it can be instrumental, if not to officer them into our organization, to neutralize them; so that they do not stand in the way of the possible struggles by the workers.” (From Compagna, the Italian Communist Party organ for work among women, Year I, No.3 [April 2. 1922],p.2.)
Today, more than over before, magazines and newspapers are full of articles about women. Some just discuss what the society women are doing and who of the upper class is getting married. Others discuss the fact that there is a high divorce rate and try to give some answer to all this. Or they discuss millions of women going into industry or the restlessness of housewives. These articles don’t show what this restlessness means and can only try to make women feel that they are better off than they have ever been. They plead with women to be happy.
None of these articles, none, points out that if women are in any way hotter off than ever before, that it is women who have made this change themselves. They don’t point out that women want a change now and it is they who will make this change.
The method that these writers have in avoiding woman’s role in making history is to avoid the daily lives of millions of women, what they do and what they think.
It is the day-to-day lives of women that show what women want and what they do not want. Many of the writers of these articles are women, but career women who are not a part of the working women and house-wives of this country. These writers realize that if they stated the facts, it would be a weapon for women in their struggle for a new life for themselves and their families.
So they don’t take up the daily pressures that women face. They don’t take up the fact that women, dealing with these pressures in their own way, realize the strength of themselves and of other women. They avoid saying that women, feeling their own strength and doing away with the old relations, are preparing themselves and their husbands for a new and better relationship.
The co-authors of this booklet have seen this in their own lives and in the lives of the women they know. They have written this down as a beginning of the expression of what the average woman feels, thinks and lives.
The Single Woman
A lot of women work before they get married and find that they are well able to take care of themselves. They are very independent as compared to single girls twenty years ago. They want to get married but they say their marriages will be different. They say they will not let themselves be the household drudges their mothers were. A friend of or inc says that she is different from her mother because she wants more from marriage. “She didn’t expect it. I’m different. I expect it.”
Women want a part in the decisions that have to be made and very often they don’t want to struggle along on one pay check. They prefer to continue work even if just for a while after they are married so that they can at least begin to have some of the things that they want and need.
One of the greatest problems a young. single woman has to face aside from how to support herself, is what her attitude to morals she has been taught is going to be. In the process of working this out, single girls have started a whole new set of morals. Even though many girls have not thought about their actions in this way, they have gone against the whole code of morals that they were taught to live by. Many women have affairs before they are married and are not looked upon as fallen women or bad women. It is not the same as one woman years ago, going with a man and keeping it within herself. One girl told me that all of her friends had had sex relations with their boy friends and that they discussed it openly. They feel that they are entitled to this and are willing to go against the school authorities, their parents, and even those men who will not accept them. Whether or not society approves, they do what their friends are doing and insist upon approval by the force of the number who feel and act the same way.
“Hey, You’re Scaring Me”
A single woman thinks twice about getting married and giving tip the freedom that she has had before marriage. Before, she went out as she pleased and bought clothes as she needed them. She never had the freedom that men have but she was on her own. One young woman of twenty that I work with says that she a almost got married twice and she is certainly glad that she didn’t. She told me, ”I know how well off I am when I hear the married women talk about their husbands, I do what I want to do now.” When she hears the married women talk, she says, “Hey, you’re scaring me. You’ll make me an old maid.”
But all women want a home and family. This same girl is always talking about having children and about her boyfriends. Young women nowadays feel that their good times and the closeness that they have with their boyfriends should not end with marriage but should make their marriage into a real experience. It is clear that these girls don’t reject men or marriage, but they reject what marriage is today.
The Married Woman
As soon as a woman gets married she finds that she must settle down and accept responsibility. something women have always been trained to do. She realizes that she has the job of making the house that she and her husband live in a place where they can invite their friends and where they can relax after a hard day’s work. And even though a woman works, iris assumed from the very beginning that the main responsibility of the house is the woman’s and the main job of support is the man’s. The husband is to go out and support you and the children. You are to make sure that the house is clean, the children are eared for, meals are cooked, laundry is done, etc. This seems to be the fair way of doing things. But soon you find that the job of staying home and taking care of the house is not as it is painted in the movies. Housework is a never-ending job that is monotonous and repetitious. After a while doing things in the house such as ironing or getting up early to make lunches or breakfast is not something that you want to do. It becomes something that you have to do.
Some couples try to get away from this division of the work at the beginning. For instance, when a woman works, the man will share the work when they get home. The husband of one woman did more of the housework than she did, before they had children.
But any idea of sharing the work disappears when children come. When there are children the whole set-up of a man working outside and a woman working inside is shown for what it Is – an inhuman setup. The whole load of children, house, everything, becomes the woman’s. As soon as a woman quits work to have children, a man doesn’t feel he has to help her with anything. What was a division in their marriage when they first got married is now a split. Instead of the children uniting them, children divide a marriage and stick the woman in the house and glue the man to his job. But very often for a woman who works and looks forward to quitting when she has children, the coming of children makes working out of the home a life sentence. After a month or two, she is hack working again.
Few men take an interest in the details of taking care of the baby. They feel it is not their job to diaper and bathe the children. Some men even feel that, though their wives have to stay home with the children, there is no reason for them to stay home with her. So they go out and do as they please, if their wives let them, knowing that their wives are stuck at home constantly taking care of their children. If a man goes out with his friends, a woman usually fights for the right to go out with hers. One woman told me that she was pregnant and that she was sorry since she had a four-month-old baby. She said her husband was glad. She said that he knew that if she was stuck with a child he could go out as lie pleased. Fewer and fewer women take this nonsense from their husbands. Women fight tooth and nail against being shouldered with the whole responsibility of the houe and the children. They refuse to stay home and be tied to the house while their husbands continue life as though nothing had happened. If women are going to stay home their husbands are going to stay home with them.
The Family is Divided
Women are trying to break down the division that has been made between the father and the children and between the mother and the father. The privilege that society has given the man, women are not allowing him. It is a privilege that he suffers by as well as she. Men know little about their children, are not close to them, and don’t know what giving time and work to a child gives hack to you. It is this giving that a woman does that makes her so much closer to her children than a father ever can be. Men feel that supporting a child is all they have to do to get the love of their child and the respect of their wife. They feel that nothing else should be asked of them-but the less that is asked of them the less they get in return.
It is not an easy thing for a woman to get used to being a mother. For one thing you know that you are responsible for this child completely. If your husband stops supporting him then you have to. You have to raise him. No one else will. Whatever kind of person he grows up to he will be mainly your doing. As soon as you have a child you have to make your marriage work. Now it is not only you but another person who didn’t ask to be born who will suffer if your marriage goes on the rocks. A lot of marriages that would ordinarily break up are held together by the woman in order to save her child from a broken home.
A woman’s whole life revolves around her children. She thinks of them first. She finds that these are the only people in her life who really need her. If she has nothing more, she lives for them. She organizes her work so she can give them the best care. The schedule that she lives on shows that her time is not her own but belongs to her children. She must often go without things so that they will have what they need. She must try to live in a house that is safe enough and roomy enough for them. Sometimes she even has to fight with her husband for something that she feels they need and he is not willing for them to have. She plans her life according to their age.
It is easy for a man to say it is his child but for the real worry when they are sick or misbehave, how they are eating and how much they sleep. These things are on the women’s shoulders. How a child’s shoes fit him, where his clothes are’ kept, even things like this most fathers don’t know anything about. This doesn’t mean that fathers like it this way. It’s just that even if they didn’t there is very little that they can do about it. When they go away in the morning, the kids are usually asleep and when they get home at night they are near their bed time. Their whole lives are concerned with making a living, and the problems involved in that. Because they are not around their children enough, they have very little idea about what children need, not only in the way of physical needs, but in terms of discipline and love and security. The division that is made between home and factory creates a division between the father and his children. It is obvious that when the father and mother lead separate lives, the children as well are going to suffer. They are often used by each parent as weapons against the other. The children seldom know where they stand and try as soon as possible to get away from it all. They refuse to be a part of this constant family war and just disassociate themselves from it as soon as they are old enough.
Then the Kids Come Home
The work that is part of having a child destroys much of the pleasure of having them for the one that has to do the work. To be with the children day in and day out, week in and week out, to clean up after them, and to keep them clean, to worry about whether they are going in the street or are catching a cold is not only a terrible strain, hut it becomes the only thing that you see in your child – the work and the worry involved. You begin to see in the child only the work and none of the pleasure. You feel that every stage of his growing up means, not just a developing child but more work for you to do. You see a child as a hindrance to your getting your other work done and to your having free time. He seems to be “in your way” rather than part of your life. Just about the time that you think you’re finished cleaning the house, the kids come home and the whole routine starts all over again, finger marks on the wall, muddy shoes and scattered toys. You don’t ever realize how much of a barrier the work of raising a child creates until he tin ally gets into his teens. He is less work to. you and you rave more time and more of a chance to appreciate him as a person. But then it is too late. He has grown away from you and you can’t really see him and know him and appreciate him.
If a woman can’t make her husband understand this (and since a man doesn’t go through it, it is very hard for him to understand), she must literally force out of him some free time away from the children for herself. This doesn’t solve anything hut it relieves the tension for a while. Sometimes men don’t want their wives to have any freedom at all. They don’t trust them or have some old-fashioned idea that they don’t need it or shouldn’t have it. The only people you can turn to in those situations are your neighbors. Very often, they are the only people who understand since they are women too and have the same problems. For a small amount of money or for an exchange of care they may be willing to take care of your child for an afternoon. Even then you are not really free. When you are away you may worry about whether the children are being taken good care of. Sometimes you even feel guilty about having left them at all. No one ever lets you forget that you should be home with your children. You can never really be free of them if you are a mother. Nor can you be free when you are with them. A woman finds out early that what she wanted from having children she cannot have. Her situation, her husband’s and the children’s, put the children in immediate conflict with her.
When a woman has children, she is tied down to the house and to these same children that are so important to her. You never know what it is to be a housewife until you have children.
Everything a housewife does, she does alone. All the work in the house is for you to do by yourself. The only time you are with other people is when you have visitors or go visiting yourself. People think sometimes that when women go visiting they are just wasting time. But if they didn’t go visiting occasionally, they would go mad from boredom and the feeling of not having anyone to talk to. It’s so good to get out among people. The work is the same, day in and day out. ”Even if you died the house would still be there in the morning.” Sometimes you get so bored that you have to do something. One woman used to change the furniture around about every two weeks. Other women buy something new for the house or for themselves. There are a million schemes to break the monotony. The daytime radio serials help to pass the time away but nothing changes the isolation and the boredom.
The terrible thing that is always there when you are doing housework is the feeling that you’re never finished. When a man works in a factory, he may work hard and long hours. But at a certain time, he punches out and for that day at least, he is finished. Come Friday or Saturday night he is through for one or two days. In the house you are never finished. Not only is there always something to be done, but there is always someone to mess up almost before you are finished. After four or six hours of a thorough housecleaning, the kids will come home and in five minutes the house will be a shambles. Or your husband will dirty all the ashtrays there are in the house. Or it will rain right after you wash the windows. You may be able to control your children or get your husband to be more careful, but that doesn’t solve much. The way that the house is set up, neither the husband nor the children have any idea how much effort and real hard work and time have gone into cleaning the house. The way that the house is set up you have no control over the hours of work, the kind of work that you will have to do, and how much work you do. These are what women want to control.
The rest of the family is no part of the house. They just live there. You make the home what it is-a place where they can relax. You make it livable. You make it attractive. You make it comfortable. You keep it clean. And you are the only one who can never completely enjoy it. You always have your eye out for what has to be done. And picking up after people seems to be a never-ending job. You can never relax where you spend most of your time, energy and ability.
Most women don’t even make the real decisions where the house is concerned. Even though they can use their own judgment on many small things. The really big things are either decided outright by the husband or he makes sure that his pressure is felt. Women feel that they must have a say in the house. They participate in the decisions of the house more than ever today. But they have had to put rip a long fight to get this recognition.
“Your own boss”
They say a woman is her own boss. That is, no one tells her how fast to work. No one tells her how much to do. And nobody stands over her all day. She can sit down when she wants to and smoke a cigarette or eat when she gets hungry. A housewife has an entirely different kind of a boss. Her first boss is her husband’s work. Everything a woman has to do is dependent on the job her husband has. Whatever her husband makes, that is what the family has to live on. How much clothes she buys, or whether she has to make them, whether clothes go to the laundromat or are washed by hand, whether they live in a crowded apartment or in a house with enough room for the family. Whether she has a washing machine or does clothes by hand, all of these things are decided by the kind of job her husband has.
The hours that her husband works determines her whole schedule and how she will live, and when she will do her work. One big problem for a woman is having a husband who works nights. Then there is no schedule. By the time that the housework is done. her husband gets up and the house is messed again. If there are children then there are two schedules to be met. The children have to be kept quiet during the day, which is almost impossible with children.
Whether her husband has a comparatively easy job or a hard one affects her life, too. A man who works very hard is not going to help her with any of the work around the house. He is going to come home a lot grouchier and harder to live with. The woman has to learn to keep her temper a lot more if there is to be any peace. And the children have to be kept in line more. too.
Even where she lives is decided by her husband’s work. The part of town that makes going to work the easiest is the part of town that you live in. And if there are no jobs in the town that are in your husband’s line of work then you have to forget all your friends and all the ties of Family and you go to where he can find work.
The children and the demands of taking care of them is the next decider of how a woman is to spend her life. There is, nothing more demanding than an infant. When they want something, they want it at that moment and not a moment later.
But the most ruthless boss and the one that really keeps a woman going is the work itself. The work does not look on you as being a human being. It is there no matter how you feel or what you want to do. It dominates every spare moment that you have, either in the house or away from it. You are constantly trying to finish work that has no end. You want to do all that you have to do in the least possible time and have free time for yourself. And after you think you are finished you find that there is something else. Sometimes women will give up and let the house go for a few days or a few hours. But they are the ones who are bothered by it. And then they will work twice as hard trying to make up for lost time. You are always doing what you have to do. What you want to do doesn’t count for much.
Most women are very responsible. They feel that, as mothers and wives, they want to do the best possible jobs. They want to be proud of their homes and children. There is no other place where they can show what they can do. If a woman is a good manager she has the respect of other women and that is important to any woman.
So there is really no need of a foreman or lead girl at home. It is the way a woman lives and the work that she must do that keeps her toeing the mark. It is this way of life also that teaches her discipline. She learns when to say something and when to keep quiet. She learns to do things on her own. if there is something that has to be done and her husband won’t do it, she does it herself. One woman with four children painted the whole outside of her house. She said that she didn’t want to wait another five years for her husband to do it.
It Takes Experience
Every time a womans husband gets a raise she says to herself, now I will catch up. That extra few dollars will change things. But by the time the time he gets that raise, prices have jumped to make up for it, or he has been sick and lost a day’s pay, or thee has been an ”extra”. And even if things have gone along fairlysmoothly, you go and buy the things that you have needed all along but just weren’t able to afford before So you are right back where you started from. Almost all workers families live from day to day. There is very little chance to put something away for an emergency. If a family missed just one paycheck it may set them back for weeks. In all that time the housewife must manage somehow. The same thing happens when the workingman goes out on strike. For weeks and sometimes months she must manage on practically nothing. The miners’ wives have a system of storing food and clothes away when their husbands are working steady. In that way, when there is a strike they can live for a while at least on what they have saved up in the way of food and clothes. It takes a lot of experience and training to learn all the tricks and the woman is the only one in a position to learn these ‘tricks”. Corners can be cut in an emergency that you never thought could be cut and you somehow manage.
A woman has to get along on what her husband makes. It doesn’t matter how much or how little he brings home. She must decide when to make clothes and when she can afford to buy them. She finds recipes for making economical meals that at the same time look and taste good. The way the family lives, whether there are bill collectors at the door, or food on the table, is dependent on how much money her husband gives her and how she manages it. Although most husbands realize that prices are high, they don’t really know how much it takes to keep a family going. It is only the woman who has to live on impossibly little who knows about how to manage finances.
All of this experience prepares a woman to manage when she is on her own. The woman whose husband runs out on her has a pretty tough job on her hands, especially if she has children. If she has relatives who will help her at the beginning then she is considered lucky. But on the whole she has to be both mother and a father to the children. She has no choice about working. She assumes the responsibility of both a man and woman. She supports her family on what she makes, which is usually much less than a man makes. She has less time with her children and sometimes has to be separated from them in order to be able to work. Yet these women manage to bring up their children and start new lives for themselves. They don’t sit home and weep. My friend has a neighbor whose husband ran out on her and left her with a child and all the bills. This woman sold all the furniture and with the money took a trip to Puerto Rico to see her mother. It was something to meet hot. If she cried, you didn’t know about it. She just said that she wasn’t going to wait around like a damn fool. She had never done anything like that before but when the time came, she knew just what to do.
They Just Lead Separate Lives
A woman stays at home alone all day. She waits for her husband to come home to tell him of the things that have happened during the day, something that the kids have done or said that shows what wonderful kids they are, or what a hard day she had. She wants to hear what he has gone through and what he thinks about buying this or that for the house. But his life is not in the house. When a man comes home from work, he wants to do nothing. Sometimes he doesn’t even want to do any talking. You wait all day for someone to talk to, and then when your husband comes home he picks up the paper and acts as if he doesn’t even know you exist. When a woman is home all day, she wants to go out to a show or for a drive on Sunday afternoon. But during the week your husband comes home exhausted and even on weekends he sometimes wants to stay home and relax. He has been away from the house most of his waking hours. Now is his chance to sit around. Women have needs of companionship and understanding that men know nothing about. If there is not that understanding between men and women about their work and human needs. It is not surprising that many marriages can’t make a go of their sex lives, the most delicate phase of their relationship. Their husbands, the people they should be closest to, often are furthest away from. They just lead separate lives.
Women Know Each Other
If women can’t turn to their husbands, then they turn to other women. Because of the fact that women lead such similar lives, they know and understand each other. In the neighborhood some women will get very close to others. These women in a court or a street will help each other out if they need help and make the time of day go faster. They talk of things they would not dream of talking to their husbands about even if their husbands would listen. Who can tell a man how they want to fix up a house or what they want to buy for the children. Things like problems with your husband or financial problems are common property”. The women discuss all the things that at feet their lives–whether or not to have children and how many to have, how to save money on clothes, housewares and food, which stores have lower prices, the best method of birth control, sex problems, going to work. In the discussions many things are resolved. Women get new attitudes as a result of hearing other women talk. The women will exclude someone from their group because she is not doing what is expected of her. A mother who neglects her child or does not take care of the house and has no excuse for it will not have the time or confidence of the other women.
Some people call this gossiping but it’s much more than that. Women are breaking down the isolation of the home by creating strong ties with other women. It is the only group life a housewife can have and she makes the most of it. The very existence of these ties with other housewives is condemnation of the relations a woman has with her husband, with her work, and with the rest of society. The women come together, talk together, and, in a way, live together. There is no one else they can turn to but themselves. There is one place where they can decide whom they will be with, where they will be, and what they will do. There is no one who will stand in the way.
The best time of the week in my court is Friday. Everybody cleans house on Friday so they will have less to do on the weekend. After they are finished, in the afternoon, someone will run out for beer and we will sit around and talk and relax and compare notes. The sociability is at its highest and we all feel most relaxed when the work is done. There is a feeling of closeness and kidding around that you can’t get anywhere else except with these people that know you and accept you on your own terms.
This is how women are organized. With the experience they have in managing things and with the aid of the other women in their group. They know what to do when they want to take action. The women in a housing project in San Francisco got together to halt the rise in prices. They saw the government wasn’t doing anything so they took matters into their own hands. They held meetings and demonstrations and distributed leaflets. No one person organized it. After living with their neighbors in a housing project for so long they knew each other intimately; each other’s weaknesses and strengths, The women made price lists up of every store in town and bought at only those stores that had the lowest prices. The whole city knew about “Mama’s OPA” and the papers had many articles on it.1
There are many times that the housewives take actions that never reach the papers. Women will barricade streets so that their children will have a place to play. The police with tear gas bombs cannot drive them away. Women will pass the word along to other women that on a certain day no woman is to buy meat. They would just walk up to strange women and say “Don’t buy meat on such a day”. Women know each other so well that they can talk to a perfect stranger and be sure of being understood. The miners’ wives went out on strike to protest the Company selling their homes and again to protest the dust in the air of the mining towns. They got the support of their husbands in both cases. Their husbands refused to cross their picket lines.
Women act as a group because they are treated like one. They live the same way on the whole, no matter how different the individual situation may be.
A New Relationship
The most universal organization of women is the action that women take in their own homes. Each woman in her own home is making a revolution. There are some women who don’t say much to their husbands or to other women Yet when it comes to a showdowns, they just go ahead and do what they know is right. Other women argue with their husbands for the things thev feel they should have. These arguments mean something to a woman. She is not just arguing with her husband. She is showing him and even more important, herself, that she has ideas and desires of her own. Women are constantly telling men, however they can, that they can’t go on in the old way. It is this spirit of independence and self-respect that men admire in women, even when it is directed against themselves. They admire a woman who can stand on her own two feet and doesn’t let her husband walk all over her. A woman who doesn’t take it from her husband has the respect of other women and she has the respect of her husband as well. Women are more and more refusing to be just machines for raising children and getting their husbands off to work. They demand more of their husbands in the way of a relationship. If a man cannot change, they will break up the marriage rather than go on living with a stranger. Divorce nowadays is accepted because women have made it acceptable. It is clear that it is not the individual man who is involved. There are too many divorces for that. When a woman gets divorced, although it takes the form of a struggle with an individual man, it is an act opposing the whole way of life men and women must lead in our day. Women fight the role that men play in the home. This has nothing to do with how much a husband helps his wife or how good he is to the children. No matter how much a husband tries to understand the woman’s problems, no matter how well they get along, women fight the way they are forced to live and want to establish a new way of life.
The Working Woman
One of the ways that women show their rejection of their role in society is by going out to work. Many women work today who have never worked before By going out to work, women have changed their relations with their husbands and children. Along with this they have given themselves new problems to solve and have found new ways to solve them.
Women have expanded their experiences so that they know what large groups of people are thinking and doing. Fewer and fewer women today are housewives only. Most women at one time or another go to work. Some women go out to work only a few months a year. Some work steady. In any case, they have a picture of the world that they never had before.
Some women that I have worked with say that they work because they can’t get along on what their husbands make. This is true especially in the family where the man has no trade and his wages are small. But it is more and more true of everyone. Besides the high cost of living, there is another reason why it is hard to get along on one paycheck today. Women demand much more than they used to. They don’t want to go through the awful feeling of being broke that they went through during the depression. They don’t want to wash clothes by hand when, with a little extra, they can have the most modern equipment in their homes. Everything now is modern and women want the most modern appliances to work with. About the only thing you can do on one paycheck is exist.
When you are living on a small budget, it is the woman who must bear the brunt of it. She must go long distances to shop. When it becomes necessary to do without, she is usually the first person to forget her own needs.
One of the biggest financial needs that a woman has is some financial independence. They don’t want to ask their husbands before they spend any money. They want to have money of their own. To be able to afford new drapes when the old ones are still good but you are tired of looking at them, is a luxury that most women can’t afford but all women want. The paycheck that your husband gives you, although you work as hard for it as he does, is never really your own, even though it may be handed to you for the needs of the family. Those needs that women have can never be satisfied on the money the working man alone brings home.
A woman who goes to work in a factory has a feeling of independence not only about the money that is spent but about the decisions that are made in the house If you are helping to support the family, you have more right to decide not only what is to be done with the family money but you now want to have more of a part in other questions that come up in the family which your husband has always decided before. One particular man was surprised with the rights his wife took since she started to work that he told her to stay home They got along better that way he said.
It is not only decisions that a woman feels more independent about. When a woman works she knows that she doesn’t have to put up with a lot of things from her husband If he steps out of line by drinking or going out with other women then she will up and leave him faster than before She figures that now, if she has to, she can always support herself
One of the things that drives women to get jobs is the boredom and loneliness that they would have to live with it they stayed home. Women want to be with other people As compared to her husband, a woman leads an isolated life in the house b; herself. The only company that she has while she is home is the radio and the telephone. In the factory you at least work with other people and get away from the boredom and loneliness that is home life.
The thing that a woman regrets most when she goes out to work is leaving her children. It is true that you want to get away from them for a while, but you don’t like to leave them with just anybody. Most of the time you don’t know much about how they are being taken care of If they are older, you don’t know who they go around with and what they do with their tune. If your child is in a nursery school, you can ask the teacher how the child is doing. Most of the time she will say, “Fine”. But that’s all. You really don’t know how they are being treated or what kind of care they are getting. You always hope the child is doing the right thing but when you work, you are never sure.
There is also the problem of where to leave the child when you work. Many women who are separated from their husbands and have young children, have to board them out. They miss their children who seem to grow up without them. They don’t have much say in the way their children are brought up. Other women prefer to depend on neighbors whom they know rather than a nursery school that they know little or nothing about. The reason that a lot of women don’t go to work at all is because they have no one reliable to take care of their children.
Wherever She Wants to Be
Women want to be able to decide whether or not to work. If a man tells a woman to work she usually won’t. For one thing she feels that if she works when he tells her to then he gets used to it, and sometimes stops working regularly himself. He thinks that she should support him. One woman I know had to stop working because her husband thought that he could go out gambling with the money that she was making. On the other hand, if her husband tells her not to work, that doesn’t mean that she will stay home. When a woman goes out to work it is not always with the approval of her husband. Many men resent their wives working. They use as an excuse the fact that the children should stay with their mother. They also say that they are not able to help their wives with the children and with the house and shopping. Others will make it so unbearable by putting the entire burden on their wives that finally the wives will be forced to quit.
Women have to fight those men who believe that a woman’s place is in the home, and that is where they should stay. These are the men who don’t want their wives to have any independence at all, and who want to he the only ones who bring in a check so they are the only ones with a say in their homes. When a woman goes out to work, they know that she becomes much more of a person in her own right. Women have shown these men that a woman’s place is wherever she wants to be.
Those women who want to go on working and whose husbands don’t want them to, don’t tell their husbands about how hard it is to work. They keep all of that to themselves One woman on our line at work has to fight to keep working She has a fourteen year-old daughter and she says there is nothing to keep her home. Yet her husband, a professional who makes good money is constantly asking her to quit She never shows how tired she is when she gets home and she can’t afford to ask him for help or lie will make her quit. There is quite a difference in the feeling toward women working between those women who have to work and those who work because they want to. If a woman works because she wants to, she doesn’t have to take as much from the company and she can tell the boss to go to hell with his job as my neighbor puts it. When she gets tired of working she knows she can quit, and even if she doesn’t quit the very fact that she can makes her more independent of the company .
Those women who have to work the single women who are supporting themselves and sometimes their parents or the divorced women who are supporting their children, must stick to their jobs no matter how they feel or what they feel like doing. When these women get tired of working, they just go right on working. They have no choice. The company usually takes full advantage of this and knows it can depend on these women for Saturday work and overtime. When you are paying ten or fifteen dollars a week for nursery school alone, every penny counts.
Factory work for women is sometimes easy work-that is, it is not hard physically. But, like all factory work, it is dull and monotonous. In certain industries, it is hard physically. You feel in every muscle that you have put in a day’s work. The important thing, no matter what kind of work you do, is the people you work with. If the work is easy but dull, then it is the other women who make the day pass at all. If it is hard work, the only thing that keeps you going is the other women who are doing the same thing you are and going through it with you. It is not the work that is so important to you and that makes factory life bearable. It is the people with whom you work that you care about.
There is always something going on in the plant. Either someone is cracking a joke or clowning or you are having a fight with the foreman or lead girl. There is always a discussion going on about something, and everything is talked about. Sex problems or their current affairs, housework and how to manage the children, new dance steps and the latest styles, price control and housing, ways of gaining and losing weight. No matter what you want to talk about, there is someone to talk to. The girls consider each other’s feelings and interests.
Unlike the company, the girls care about each other. When on person is out, she is missed and someone usually calls to find out what is the matter. If something is seriously wrong with a particular girl. Though her immediate group of friends start a collection to buy her something or to give her money to pay the extra bills. The girls give freely of their time and their money. If a girl is rot feeling well a certain day, then the other girls or some special friends will work twice as fast to make up for her work so that she doesn’t have to miss time from work. The company never worries about the individual person. They expect, come hell or high water, the same amount of work every day. The girls are the only ones who care about each other and will help you out when you need it.
We – From Now On
When a woman comes home from work at night, there is quite a difference from when a man comes home from work. As soon as she comes home she starts working all over again. A married woman, especially if she has children, can never have the luxury of sitting down and doing nothing. There is dinner to get on the table. The dishes to be washed, the children to be bathed and gotten to bed. She has two jobs. She is a part-time mother and housewife and a full-time wage earner. The weekend which a man takes to relax, for her belongs to the house. And all the things that have been left undone during the week have to be done then. It’s a hard grind. Working and having a family. No matter how much your husband helps you or how considerate he is, the main burden of the house is still on the woman’s shoulders. Just because a woman goes out to work, it doesn’t mean she stops being a housewife.
A woman has a lot more in common with her husband when she works than when she stays home. There is more to talk to him about than there was before. The main barrier is still there however, and it is still easier to talk to other women than it is to talk to your husband. Yet, things are definitely changed for a couple. For the first time, a woman says you are not supporting this house. We are. And things will have to be we from now on .
Union and Company Women
The union and the company try to appear ‘air by putting tip women for supervisory jobs. The shop stewards and the union officials are often women. The lead girls of the company and the foreladies are often taken from the line in plants. But as soon as these girls are taken off the line they forget the rest of the girls and become agents of the union or the company, very often against the girls. The lead girls usually eat together and go out together and consider themselves better than the rest. They act just like the men supervisors. But they use the fact that they are women to try to win the confidence of the other girls in order to get more production and to keep the girls in line.
One of the lead girls in my plant was asked by the supervisor to get out double production. She said she would never do that to the girls and cried like a baby for days. It never dawned on her that the only way she could get the supervisor to stop pressing her was to get the girls to protest. She handled it herself and in a few days was demanding that the girls produce, using the excuse that she had been pressured into it. Most women feel that when a woman gets to be boss, she is worse than a man. The women who get in as bosses constantly use the fact that they are women to whip the girls into line. The women union officials are the same way. Men workers talk about how the union is separated from the men. If this is true of the men’s unions, it is doubly true of the women’s. To many women it seems that the only thing that they do is collect dues and try to keep the girls in line for the company. The initiation fees are way out of proportion to the amounts that the women make and the dues are just as high. In some shops nobody knows who the shop steward is and very few of the girls care. Yet the girls will defend the union if the company attacks it. They know, however, that if anything is to be done, they will have to do it themselves.
Most women look at work as six of one and half a dozen of the other. If iris a choice of staying home in the monotony of the house, then they feel that it is worthwhile working. Some women look forward to the day when they can afford to stay home. When that day comes. They leave the plant only to conic right back most of the time. After you have worked out, even for a little while, it is hard to go back into the home. This is what happened to a lot of women during the war, who worked in defense plants. After the war, many were laid off, but some stayed. Those who were laid off and many, many more women who have never worked before are becoming working women. A woman’s place is becoming wherever she wants to be.
It is not that women enjoy work. They like the work in neither the home nor the factory. But as compared to being “just a housewife” most women feel that even factory work is preferable. My neighbor went out to work for Christmas money, and because she wanted to get away from the house for a while, but Christmas money was her excuse to her husband. Her three-year-old boy stays with his godparents so her husband has no complaint about her working. Every once in a while, she says she is quitting but she just can’t get herself to do it.
Every Woman Knows
More and more today, women are showing by their every action that they can’t go on in the old way. They have no confidence any more that what is supposed to work really will, or what is supposed to be their lives should be. Their husbands, their children, their work, all are in conflict with them. Everything they do, every decision they make, they feel may work. Marriage, children, home, none of these things are women sure of any more.
Housewives who have never worked before are waiting until their children are old enough so they can get a job. Women who have always worked are looking forward to the day when they can finally quit. Marriages that have lasted for twenty years are breaking up. Young couples after six months of marriage decide that they’d better end it now before they have children who will suffer. Young women getting out of high school instead of running to get married, get a job and an apartment of their own and live independently.
It is not that women don’t want to be wives and mothers. They want and need men to share their lives with and every woman wants children. But they feel that if they can’t have a human relationship they will have no relationship at all. Women go from being married to being divorced, from being housewives to working out, but nowhere do women see the kind of life that they want for themselves and their families.
Women are finding more and more that there is no way out but a complete change. But one thing is already clear. Things can’t go on the way they are. Every woman knows that.
“A Woman’s Place” was first published in the United States, February 1953, by Correspondence, a group organized around the publication of a workers’ newspaper. Pseudonyms (Marie Brant and Ellen Santori) were used because of the particular form of political repression by the American State during the McCarthy era.
1 This name came from the government department which was supposed to control prices during the second world war, the Office of Price Administration-OPA.
by: Ali Akbar Mahdi
The emergence of a women’s movement in Iran goes back to the nineteenth century when Iran was experiencing some major socio- economic changes. It was in the midst of the Constitutional Revolution that Iranian society experienced an organized attempt by women to change their social conditions. The penetration of European forces into Iran and the influence of European capitalism hastened the disintegration of the feudal social structures in Iran. With the European advisors, diplomats, and goods, there also came European ideas and life styles. The increasing contact with Europe awakened many educated men and women to the repressive conditions of Iranian women and led them to view these conditions as problematic and in need of change. It was in a spirit of change that Constitutionalists such as Mirza Aqa Khan Kermani, Shaykh Ahmad Ruhi, Mirza Malkum Khan and Mirza Fath Ali Akhundzadeh wrote about women’s right to education and the evils of polygamy and seclusion — ideas also raised by Qurrat al-Ain (Tahereh) in the context of the spread of the Babi movement in the mid-nineteenth century. Early criticisms of the plight of women in the country were also echoed in efforts and writings by Taj Saltaneh, Naser al-Din Shah’s daughter, and Bibi Khanoum Fatema Astarabadi.1
The Constitutional Period
The first episodes of the organized involvement of Iranian women in political activities are found in the food riots of the late nineteenth century: the opposition to the Reuter concession of 1872, and the Tobacco Protest (1891–1892).2 The Tobacco Protest was the first organized political opposition by Iranian merchants, intellectuals, and ulama (clergy) to the Qajar dynasty and foreign domination of the Iranian economy. It was the first of a series of collective efforts that culminated in the Constitutional Revolution of 1905 –1911.3
During the revolution, women organized street riots, participated in some fights, joined underground activities against foreign forces, boycotted the import of foreign goods, participated in the demolition of a Russian bank,4 and raised funds for the establishment of the National Bank.5 In the course of this national struggle, some enlightened women realized the potential of women for organized political activities and used the momentum provided by the revolution as a venue for bringing women’s causes into the open.6 Becoming increasingly conscious of the oppressive conditions of women, these pioneering feminists established secret societies (anjomans and dowrehs), commonly held by Constitutionalists at the time in order to discuss the situation of women by sharing their personal problems, experiences, and feelings. Two of the most important such early secret societies were Anjoman- e Azaadi-ye Zanaan (the Women’s Freedom Society) and Anjoman-e Zanaan-e Neqaabpush (the Society of Masked Women).7 The argument to give women the right to vote was made in numerous writings in papers
such as Sur-e Esraafil, Habl al-Matin, Mosaavaat, Iran-e Nu. In 1911, the representative from Hamedan, Vakil ul-Ruaayaa, proposed a bill in Majles that would grant women the right to vote and establish their own associations. These efforts were often countered by religious leaders who saw such suggestions as contrary to the laws of Islam. Two major figures opposing women’s liberation at this time were religious figures Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri and Seyyed Ali Shushtari, who both saw schooling for girls as detrimental to women’s status and against religious principles.8 Since Qurrat al-Ain had converted to the Babi religion, Muslim female activists were often accused of being affiliated with Babis and of being subservient to foreign interests and cultures.
In 1906, the nationalist movement succeeded in establishing a constitution demanding the “equality of all citizens in law.” However, women were not included in the definition of “citizen.” They were instead put in the same classification as criminals, minors, and the insane. Religious leaders involved in the movement did not think of women as being capable of political and legal insight — a view shared by many male constitutionalists, as well. With the later setbacks in the constitutional movement and the suppression of activists, most associations and societies formed during the revolution fell apart; the majority of the women involved in the movement went back to their homes. The task of carrying the struggle was left to a few educated women who dedicated themselves to the development of an independent women’s movement concerned with improving the social status of women in the country. Finding themselves in an uphill battle, female constitutional activists targeted education as their primary battleground for improving women’s status. Despite the ulama’s opposition (and even harassment), efforts for establishing schools for girls succeeded in major cities such as Tehran, Tabriz, Mashhad, Rasht, Hamadan and others. In 1913, Tehran had 63 schools for girls and 9 women’s societies.9
The emergence of the women’s movement in Iran can be seen in the formation and growth of women’s associations and publications over a period of twenty years, from roughly 1910 to 1932. During this period, women established a number of organizations and published many weekly or monthly magazines dealing specifically with issues related to the conditions of women’s lives. Some of these publications included Daanesh, Jahaan-e Zanaan, Shekoufeh, Zabaan-e Zanaan, Zanaan-e Iran, and Naameh Baanouvaan. In the mid-1930s, there were 14 women’s magazines discussing women’s rights, education and veiling.10 Throughout these early developments, the movement remained dependent on the supportive efforts of influential male intellectuals such as Mirzadeh Eshqi, Iraj Mirza, Malak ol-Shuara Bahar, Yahya Daulatabadi, Abolqasem Lahooti, Ali Akbar Dehkhuda, Vakil ul-Ruaayaa, Ahmad Kasravi, Seyed Hassan Taghizadeh, and later personalities such as Saeed Nafissi, Ebrahim Khajehnouri, Rezazadeh Shafaq and Khalili. Using their writings and offices, these intellectuals advocated education for girls, freedom of women from seclusion, and the abolition of polygamy. The most influential women in the movement of this period included Mariam Amid Mozayyen ol-Saltaneh, Mah Sultan Khaanom, Sediqeh Daulatabadi, Khaanum Azmodeh, Rushanak Nudoost, Shahnaz Azad, Muhtaram Eskandari, Shams ol-Muluk Javahir Kalam, Huma Mahmoudi Afaaq Parsa, and Zandokht Shirazi.11
Among the most important factors contributing to the development of women’s organizations and the increase in their activities, in addition to the devotion of the early Iranian “feminists,” are (a) the emergence and spread of the Baha’i religion, which emphasized women’s freedom, (b) the influence of Western liberal thought on Iranian intellectuals, (c) the existence of Europeans in and their increased contact with Iran both before and after the First World War, (d) the Russian Revolution of 1917 and its influence on some Iranian intellectuals, (e) the emergence of the women’s movement in neighboring Turkey and Egypt, and finally (f ) the American and British women’s victories in achieving the right to vote in the late 1910’s.12
Reza Shah’s Period (1925–1941)
With the rise of Reza Shah to power in the 1920’s, the movement began to suffer the constraints of a newly emerging dictatorship. Being another patrimonial despot, Reza Shah had no tolerance for any independent and non-conforming organizations, let alone anti-patriarchal women’s groups.
Although he favored some changes in women’s status, as will be discussed later, he gradually pressured women’s organizations to withdraw their political demands and concentrate on their welfare and educational activities. The continual opposition to women’s activities by the ulama and the government forced many women’s organizations into closing to the point that in 1932, Reza Shah banned the last independent women organization, Jamiat-e Nesvaan-e Vatankhaah-e Iran (The Patriotic Women’s League of Iran).
In 1928, the parliament (Majles) passed a new dress code requiring all males working in government institutions to dress like Europeans, except the ulama. In 1931, the government introduced a number of changes in marriage and divorce laws. A bill was passed in the Majles that gave women the right to ask for divorce under certain conditions and set the minimum marriage age for girls at 15 and for boys at 18. This legislation, according to Amin, proved to be far more important than any other changes introduced by Reza Shah’s government in later periods.13 Efforts to support women’s participation in public affairs were expanded. The government invested a great deal of money and resources in the expansion of schools for girls.14 In 1932, Tehran was the site of the Congress of Oriental Women. A year later some Iranian women submitted Congress’ recommendations for electoral rights to the Iranian parliament. The Majles rejected this demand but the government began a series of reforms encouraging more protection for women in various social arenas. In 1934, Reza Shah initiated the development of a government- controlled women’s organization called Kaanoon-e Baanovaan (The Ladies Center), headed by his daughter Ashraf Pahlavi. This organization began a series of welfare activities designed to both depoliticize the women’s movement and create an image of women’s involvement and participation in society as a sign of modernity — the latter being a major concern of the new king.15
In 1936, Reza Shah forcefully ordered women to unveil — a decree that had serious negative effects on the movement. On the one hand, the ulama used the decree as proof that the women’s movement had no other aim than “making women naked” and “showing their bodies in public” — acts contrary to Islamic ethics. On the other hand, the state’s determination in issuing the decree and implementing it vigorously, despite widespread opposition by public and religious leaders, convinced many early “feminists” to support the decree as a “progressive” measure necessary for confronting clerical misogynistic approaches to women’s concerns. The success of the state in winning the support of women activists and some intellectuals resulted in further alienating clerics and a larger segment of secular intellectuals and activists from Reza Shah’s modernization program.
Mohammad Reza Shah’s Period (1942–1978)
World War II opened another page in the history of the women’s movement in Iran. The occupation of the country by the Allied Forces and the forceful abdication of Reza Shah from the throne weakened government control over the opposition and created an opportunity for the development of political parties and organizations. Again, several new women’s organizations emerged, of which the following were the most influential: Tashkilaat-e Zanaan- e Iran (The Organization of Iranian Women), Hezb-e Zanaan (Women’s Party), and Jamiat-e Zanaan (Women’s League).16 To these should be added women’s organizations affiliated with political parties: the Sazmaane Demokraatike Zanaan (Women’s Democratic Organization) of Tudeh Party, Nehzate Zanaane Pishro (Women’s Progressive Movement) of Society of Iranian Socialists, and Komiteh-ye Zanaan (Women’s Committee) of Nation’s Party of Iran (Hezbe Mellat). Women’s calls for freedom, education, the abolition of polygamy and the veil received enthusiastic support from intellectual men such as Mohammad Hejazi, Sadeq Hedayat, Ali Dashti, Mahmood Beh-Azin, Ahmad Sadeq, and Bozorg Alavi.17
The most important feature of women’s organizations in this period, in addition to their independence from government, as Sanasarian mentions, was “their close and inalienable association with various political parties.”18 Affiliated with the communist Tudeh Party, the Women’s League was the most organized with branches in many major cities. Women again became active in the national struggle against foreign forces and were even involved in the political events of 1945 in Azarbaijan. A new development in this period was the participation of younger females in the student movement in universities. Many women joined student organizations and took part in repeated demonstrations associated with political events in this period.
In 1951, two influential women, Mehrangiz Daulatshahi and Safeyeh Firouz, met Mohammad Reza Shah and appealed to him for electoral rights. In 1952, various women’s organizations again sent petitions to Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq, the Majles, and the United Nations demanding equal political and economic rights, especially enfranchisement. In all cases, these demands were met with silence in fear of opposition by the ulama.
After the CIA-engineered coup d’etat of 1953, the young Shah began to assert his power more aggressively. He eliminated all oppositional and independent political parties and organizations. Since most of the women’s organizations in the 1940s were attached to various political parties, they became subject to elimination by default. However, women’s organizations controlled by the central government continued to live and influence the nature and direction of women’s activities in the following three decades.
During this period, the government centralized women’s organizations, unified their leadership, and de-politicized their demands. According to Sanasarian, this was the “co-optation and legitimation” period of the women’s movement:
Henceforth, the women’s rights movement entered an institutionalized and legitimate sphere of activity in which demands were still made upon the authorities, but in this instance the changes asked for were in accordance with the ones received. In other words, women’s organizations did not make demands that could not or would not
be met; their activities were quite compatible with the government’s stand.19
In 1959, fourteen women’s organizations were brought under the umbrella of the Federation of Women’s Organizations — a federation later transformed into a new and more centralized organization: Shoraa-ye Ali-ye Jamiat-e Zanaan-e Iran (The High Council of Iranian Women). In 1966, the latter was again replaced by a new organization called Saazemaan-e Zanaan-e Iran (Women’s Organization of Iran) — an organization that lasted until the end of the Pahlavi regime in 1978. The organization developed branches in major cities with numerous smaller health and charity offices under its supervision. In the three decades of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, all women’s activities were channeled through these government-controlled organizations. These organizations were incorporated into the government bureaucracy and were basically involved in charity, health, and educational activities. The only political demand these organizations made was that of women’s enfranchisement — a right granted to women by the government in 1962 in the face of opposition by the ulama. Women’s political activities, like those of men, were banned and violators were punished with harassment, imprisonment, and even execution (the latter practice started in 1975).
From 1966 to 1977, women’s organizations and associations, as they were officially acknowledged and openly in existence, became apolitical, charitable, educational, and professional units under the surveillance of the state.20 However, the state remained the major source for change in the status of women — a policy supported by the belief that “. . . without the support of the modernizing state and its political organs, which were controlled by men, women’s rights are unattainable in an Islamic society. The law as the expression of the will of the state was indispensable to the securing of women’s rights in Iran.”21 Thus, access to education and work outside of the home was made easier for women, despite the lack of any serious efforts to create job opportunities for them. In 1967, the Shah expanded his White Revolution programs allowing female graduates to serve in education and health corps. A Family Protection Law was passed that set tougher conditions for polygamy, raised the age of marriage for girls to 18, put divorce under the authority of family courts, and created more safeguards against male vagary in divorce.22 The state continued to increase the number of women in executive positions, enhance their opportunities in the public arena, and appoint women as judges — a practice condemned by Shia theologians. A woman was appointed as the Minister of Education. In 1975, family laws were further modified to give women custody rights, ease earlier penalties against abortion, and offer free abortion on demand. In the same year, women’s affairs gained ministerial status and a woman was appointed to the position.
While important, these appointments were symbolic and minuscule in their scope. In the last 20 years of the Pahlavi reign, the number of women in managerial positions in the government never passed 2.8 percent (the same has been the case in the past two decades in the Islamic Republic).23 All these developments took place in an atmosphere of contradictions between women’s freedom and patrimonial repression. Women were appointed to executive positions in male-dominated environments with strong male cultures and structures. Imperial bureaucracy was a male institution intolerant of independent decision-making by women. Opposition to male decisions was not tolerated, especially on political issues. Opportunities came with limitations, social freedom with political docility. While at the end of the Pahlavi era (1978), 333 women were in local councils and 24 in two houses of the parliament,24 there were 323 female political prisoners serving time in Iranian prisons! In the last 7 years of the Pahlavi reign, 42 female guerrillas lost their lives in street fighting with military forces.25
The Revolutionary Period (1978–1981)
During 1977–78, when the movement against the Shah was formed, women again became a major force for change. To mobilize a strong force against the Shah, religious activists working closely with Ayatollah Khomeini, a formidable opposition leader against the Shah, tapped into the reservoir of religious women who had always supported them but remained secluded in their homes.26 Using religious themes and rituals glorifying women, especially those revolving around Fatima Zahra and Zaynab Kobra as symbols of resistance to unjust rule, the ulama were able to bring these women out to open demonstrations against the Shah.27 Seeing this massive outpouring of women against the Shah, some younger, secular, unveiled women resorted to the chador (veil) in a symbolic defiance of the Shah’s Westernized dictatorship and in solidarity with the massive women’s participation.28 Women of all classes and ideological persuasions participated in these anti-government demonstrations.29 Where some young women engaged in armed confrontations with police and military forces, older women offered them support and protection against police chase.30 The latter were mostly members of various underground political organizations such as the Organization of Iranian People’s Fedayee Guerrillas and the Iranian People’s Mujahedin Organization, both formed in the early 1970s. During the years 1978–79, the Women’s Organization of Iran was abolished, several new ones were established, and some old ones re-emerged. These included the National Union of Women, the Committee for Solidarity of Women, the Organization of Iranian Women, the Women’s Populace of Iran, women’s branch of National Democratic Front, the Association of Women Lawyers, the Women’s Society of Islamic Revolution, and the Muslim Women’s Movement. The latter two, along with a number of small but influential other associations affiliated with the Islamic Republic Party and other Islamic charities, represented Muslim women loyal to the Islamic revolution and the newly established Islamic Republic.
Once the ulama managed to establish their leadership of the revolution, they began laying the groundwork for the establishment of an Islamic Republic. Their first move in that direction was to condition the presence of women in the public sphere by demanding observance of religious laws and new ordinances issued by the clerics. Soon after the establishment of the Provisional Government of Mehdi Bazargan, Ayatollah Khomeini demanded the abolition of the Family Protection Act, ordered the implementation Sharia laws in the country, and issued a decree demanding women dress “properly.” A female vigilante group (dokhtar”an-e Zaynab) was organized to maintain state codes of female appearances in public (and even some private) arenas. Numerous boundaries separating men and women in society were erected: “males and females were separated in higher education classes that were once coed, females students were barred from 69 different fields of study, women were banned from some professions such as the judiciary and singing groups, and female students were barred from certain disciplines in the universities, such as engineering and agriculture. A decree dismissed all women judges and barred female students from law schools. Women were forbidden to participate in some sports and not allowed to watch men in sports fields.”31 The universal Mother’s Day was replaced with Fatima Zahra’s birthday (Prophet Mohammad’s daughter). The new Sharia laws gave men an absolute right to divorce their wives without having to produce any justification. Child custody laws were also changed in favor of men: after divorce, women are entitled to keep their boys only up to the age of two and girls until seven. After these ages, fathers have the right to full custody. Women’s judgment as evidence in court was declared to be worth half a man’s. Blood money for a murdered woman was set to be half that of a man. If a murdered woman’s family demands retribution in kind (qesaas), her relatives would be obliged to pay the killer’s family the full blood money in compensation.
Understanding the implications of these laws and what Ayatollah Khomeini meant by “proper dress,” i.e., “forced veil,” women responded massively and angrily: thousands of women poured into the streets and demonstrated against the forced hejaab (veiling) and the abolition of the Family Protection Act. Their protests were often met by club-wielding, plain-clothed supporters of the revolution known as Hezbollahis. On March 8, International Women’s Day, women staged another protest against the newly imposed restrictions. Again, mobs attacked their protest and government officials accused participants of being tools of Western imperialism and a symbol of Western decadence. In the course of a year and a half after the revolution, women’s organizations pressed for equal wages, the right to choose their own dress, the revival of protective measures in the previous Family Protection Act, and the right to work in legal professions. The regime opposed all these demands and developed counter-strategies to divide the women’s movement and neutralize their struggle. Thereafter, the regime moved quickly to suppress the women’s movement, eliminate all women’s organizations, force women into the chador, segregate women in public places such as universities, schools, and government offices, and reduce women’s presence in public life by firing and retiring practices (nearly 24,000 women lost their jobs).32 While secular women opposed to the veil or the Islamic Republic were fired from their jobs, active participation of religious women in supportive and “female” occupations was encouraged.33 The new religious laws and government policies resulted in the retirement of large segments of defiant secular women from the labor force, the arrest of women who openly challenged the regime, and the migration of a large number of women who could not adjust to the new policies out of the country. Female marriage age was reduced to 13 and professional secular women were encouraged to retire from their public occupations in order to support male employment.34
For the third time in the history of the Iranian women’s movement, Iranian women participated and contributed to the process of political change. This time, however, their participation resulted in divisions among women and mixed results for women of different ideology, social class, and religious backgrounds. In what follows, I will explain some of the reasons for these developments.
Sociological Reasons for the Failure of the Women’s Movement in the Revolution
The participation of women in the Iranian revolution of 1979 was historically unparalleled, both in terms of the depth and breadth of their commitment. Yet, their achievements were hardly close to the expectations that made such a participation possible. The reasons for this gap between women’s expectations and achievements in the revolution are to be found in both the nature of the revolution and the sociological characteristics of women’s movements in the pre-revolutionary era.
Although the Iranian Revolution was a popular revolution based on the aspirations and participation of various social classes for overthrow of a dictatorship, it was the clerical leadership that could successfully mobilize even the most conservative and traditional sectors of the society against the Shah. In the past century and a half of social movements in Iranian history, no secular political party has ever been able to mobilize traditional women as extensively as religious leaders have. Religious leaders mobilized the largest demonstrations against the Shah — demonstrations that included not only secular female activists, who had been in forefront of opposition to the Shah all along, but also large number of religious women who often avoided participation in the public sphere. Ayatollah Khomeini was able to successfully unite various segments of Iranian society against the Shah.
However, these diverse cultural, ideological, class, ethnic, and religious segments participated in the revolution, each with a different vision of post- revolutionary Iran. Islamicist women participated in the revolution for bringing about the establishment of an Islamic state based on Sharia. Secular women participated in the revolution in opposition to the Shah’s dictatorship. Women associated with Marxist organizations hoped for the end to the Shah’s regime as a puppet of Western imperialist powers and the establishment of a socialist state. The majority of women, not devoted to any ideology or political orientation, joined the movement against the Pahlavi regime in the hope that their country would be free of dictatorship, foreign domination, and alienating cultural attitudes adopted by the Pahlavi regime.35 Given this diversity of expectations and orientations and the strength of religious leadership and organization, it is obvious that the strongest party in the coalition would take the lead in imposing its own agenda on the revolution. That is exactly what Ayatollah Khomeini did, despite his earlier promises of working for a future democratic Iran.36
The most important division contributing to conflicting expectations from and outcome of the revolution is the division between secular and religious women. Secular women, mostly of middle and upper classes, were the major losers of this revolution. The religious policies of the new government restricted their access to the public sphere, forced them to comply with Islamic dress codes, limited their occupational and educational activities, and were harassed or arrested if they opposed the emerging Islamic ruling ideology. The same can be said of religious minorities whose cultural traditions and religious beliefs contradicted the imposed Islamic codes of dress, social interaction, and public appearance. While the Islamic Republic suppressed religious, traditional, and mostly poorer, women found the new opportunities offered by the Islamic Republic empowering. Traditional women, who were often banned in the past by their parents or religious authorities from having a presence in the public sphere, now found the dominant Islamic atmosphere in society less socially intimidating and more religiously acceptable. Furthermore, once sanctioned by the religious authorities, these women’s husbands or parents had one less excuse for not allowing their daughters or wives to participate in the public arena.
The failure of the women’s movement to gain what it had fought for was also due to its sociological characters. Despite my later argument in this article, the classical sociological models of social movement are not good explanatory theories for explaining the developments in women’s movements in the 1990s and after, I find these theories helpful for explaining the failure of the movement until 1980. In its pre-revolutionary stage, the Iranian women’s movement never developed the sociological characteristics necessary for a successful social movement — characteristics such as a well-defined set of objectives, planned regular activities, adequate organizational structures and networks, a stable and/or organized cadre of activists, a leadership, a widespread membership with a “we-consciousness,” a set of cohesive guiding values or ideology (identity), and clear normative expectations for social change.37 The overall historical atmosphere of social change at the time, everywhere and not just in Iran, was in conformity with the classical models. The women’s movement that emerged in early 20th century Iran and moved through various stages in the next seven decades can best be characterized as urban, elitist, and often ideological organizations and were structurally dependent on larger political parties run by males.
The movement was started by urban educated women and continued to target women in urban centers. The closer the movement was to the center, the more ideological and intellectual its activities were. The farther it went to the peripheral areas, the more charitable and health-oriented its activities became. Most female activists were urban women of upper or upper-middle class origin. The majority of these women came from families in which men were active participants in social, political, and cultural affairs. The urban and “high culture” lifestyle of these women continued to diverge sharply from those of women of lower and traditional classes, thus making it harder to create a critical mass in support of the movement. The strategies adopted by the movement also had an urban bias. Women activists often published pamphlets and magazines that were not accessible to the large number of illiterate women in rural areas. Most women’s organizations were so ill defined that they could hardly command the political resources necessary for their existence. While some were mere “paper” bodies, a few established relative wide communication networks covering several districts, towns, or cities. Given its dependence on political parties and the government, the movement lacked the autonomy and independent energy to act as a pressure group.
In the face of widespread illiteracy and lack of adequate communication resources, publication and consciousness raising were appropriate means of dissemination but could not reach the majority of women in traditional households. Although certain values and normative expectations were developed by some of the better-organized associations, they did not crystallize into a unified force capable of countering the prevailing religious ideology. The issues important to the activists in the movement often differed from those advocated by the state or desired by women of lower classes. By and large, upper and upper-middle class women saw the religious ordinances as obstacles to the improvement of women’s status. Middle class women demanded mostly educational opportunities and the right to participate in social activities, while for lower class women, health, sanitation, and welfare needs were the real “women’s issues.”
One cannot underestimate the role of the state and the religious institutions in weakening the independent women’s movement in Iran. The state and religion have historically remained two sources of “value- legitimation” in Iran, each struggling to maintain a monopoly on the legitimation process. The state countered the emergence of an independent women’s movement in two ways: on the one hand, it did not tolerate any independent movement and continued to suppress autonomous activities capable of challenging its monopoly of power. Women’s demands for independent action were perceived as a political challenge to the state and a provocative issue evoking religious opposition. On the other hand, the state saw itself as the “champion” of women’s rights and was a major source of social change in the status of women in the country.38 While it engineered desired changes in lives of women, it extended state power over women’s bodies and could not tolerate changes arising outside of its own control. This, in fact, complicated the task of most “feminists” and opposition forces supporting women’s rights during the Pahlavi era. If these supporters of women’s rights opposed changes proposed by the state, they were accused of siding with religious obscurantism. If they agreed with the state policies, they would find themselves on the side of a repressive state. As much as this political impasse was a reality, it was also a strategy actively used by both the state and clerics to discredit their oppositions. To change the status of women, opposition forces often find themselves forced to rely either on the state (during the Pahlavi era) or religious authorities (the Islamic feminists in the past decade in the Islamic Republic).
Another major difficulty for the supporters of the Iranian women’s movement in confronting patriarchal culture and structures has been its inability to openly criticize religious values supporting patriarchy — a general problem confronting most Iranian intellectuals and politicians even today. The strength of religious sentiment in the country, especially among the rural and traditional segments of the society, along with the existence of a large number of Muslim intellectuals who believe that “genuine” Islam is supportive of women’s rights, have compounded the task of open cultural debates on major national issues. Often, various organizations and feminist reformers employed religious edicts, albeit with a new interpretation favorable to their desired position, for demanding a change in the status of women. This non-confrontational strategy improved the chances of the movement for public acceptability and social legitimation. However, it also reduced its effectiveness in achieving its long run goal of equality of the sexes. By accepting the general framework of society, the movement put itself in the position of working within the very institutional framework laid down by the dominant patriarchal culture and, thus, became incapacitated in its effort to pose itself as a viable alternative.
Finally, the most paralyzing feature of the women’s movement in Iran up until the revolution was its dependency on the larger movements in society. Even the early women organizations during 1890–1930 period, which maintained their autonomy from political parties and the government, still remained dependent on the general conditions created by the national struggle against foreign domination or native despotism. The movement never attained the structural allowances necessary for full realization of its potential. Dependence on the government or general political movements prevented the movement from developing its own unique identity, especially during the 1940s and 1978–81 periods.39 In both of these periods, which were characterized by an increase in the number and activities of women’s organizations, women’s activities were organizationally too dependent on various political parties dominated by male politicians — a condition that put women in supporting roles in those organizations or as the “field hands” of the movement. As Tabari mentions, many of the women’s organizations during the early years of the revolution acted as fronts for recruiting female members for the parent organizations.40 It is only in post revolutionary Iran that we begin to see the re-birth of the movement with a new identity and higher degree of autonomy.41
The Rise of Islamic Feminism and the Re-birth of the
In the first decade of the revolution, the state continued to take away the rights women had previously achieved. Women were on the defensive and the state on the offensive. In the second decade, Iranian women went on the offensive and began to put tremendous pressure on the state to retreat. During the first decade of the revolution, the state used the war with Iraq (1980–1988) as justification for suppressing dissent and crushing active opposition. All oppositional and secular organizations, including women’s, were banned. Many activists opposed to the state, both men and women, were arrested, imprisoned, and executed. Those who could manage to leave the country migrated abroad. Those who could not or did not wish to leave the country chose to either remain silent or go underground. A number of secular women activists started underground classes and consciousness-raising meetings in a very hostile anti-secular, anti-liberal, anti-Marxist environment of religious fervor.42 The majority of activists concluded that organized activity was very dangerous and thus had to be used as the last resort, and only with extreme caution and adequate safeguards. A more realistic approach, more attune with the global changes taking place around the world, especially in the environmentalist movement, was generating individualistic defiance to state rules impinging on women’s personal lives — a very effective strategy in a non-democratic, misogynistic state where any challenge to the legal definition of citizenship rights endangers life and property of the individual. These forms of resistance included non-confrontational strategies for undermining the state’s power and diluting state dress codes and public appearance requirements.
With the end of the Iran-Iraq war and the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989, new alliances emerged and groups pressed the state for changes in social and legal policies affecting women. These efforts became more pronounced after the presidential election of 1997 when Mohammad Khatami, with massive support from women and youth, was elected as the president. Many Muslim women who had participated in the war activities and had cooperated closely with the state came to the realization that the ruling clerics’ promises of equality at the beginning of the revolution had not come true. A group of liberal Muslim female activists were able to see for themselves that the policies advocated by the Islamic Republic represented “patriarchy in Islamic clothing.”43 They, along with secular women, began to problematize the equalitarian verses of Qur’an and hadiths (statements by prophets and imams) and question the monopoly of interpretation of these texts by male jurisprudents44 — an argument developed by Islamic feminists in other continents as well.45 These women, working in different arenas and with varied voices and tactics, cleverly used the conflict between various political factions within the clerical establishment to their advantage by pitting one set of religious interpretation of texts against the other, one faction of ulama against the other, and lay intellectuals against the clerics. They questioned prevailing gender segregation, unequal division of labor, widespread domestic violence, and the organizational and exploitative biases within the Iranian Islamic family. Becoming visible and demanding across the social and political spectrum, especially in media and politics, these women focused on the tensions, conflicts, and inequalities hidden within relationships in Islamic society. To look for opportunities within a misogynistic state, women focused on “their basic rights, security against the unyielding forces of fanaticism, and dignity in face of two decades of assaults on their identity and status.”46
While there has not been a homogeneous women’s movement in the classical definition of the term, in the Islamic Republic, there has been a rise in women’s activities in various sectors of society. What has happened in Iran can be described as a creeping change, much like what happened to women seeking the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in the United States. The ERA failed but women’s penetration into the labor market, educational arena, entertainment industry, and politics brought them gains much greater in scope than those hoped for by the drafters of the ERA. In Iran too, despite the institutional barriers put in place by the Islamic Republic in cultural and interactional domains, women have pushed the imposed boundaries further out and made concerted efforts to penetrate various professions in the public arena, especially in the film industry, literary works, and mass media.
Although women’s participation in the labor force has not made much progress from that of the past decade (12.1 percent during 1987–1997), the female occupational profile has changed dramatically. Women are now found in commercial, industrial, educational, agricultural, cultural, political, and entertainment sectors. Given that electoral rights have been achieved, women are focused on equal opportunities in and access to leadership and executive positions, both in government and industry. In 2001, the same year, there were 500,000 employed women who either managed their own businesses or supervised other employees.47 Women’s achievements in education have surpassed men’s on many levels and in many positions. In the first decade of the revolution, enrollment in girl’s primary schools had a 50 percent increase. Today, 60 percent of girls of 15–18 years age are attending high schools. In 1998, 51 percent, and in 1999, 57 percent of students entering universities were females (only 25 percent prior to the revolution).48 The literacy rate among women is up to 80 percent. In 1945, only 1.0 percent of employed men and women had graduate degrees. In 2001, this number increased to 22 percent for women, and only to 7 percent for men. In the political sphere, women have opened more space for themselves. In local council elections in 1998, 297 women were elected to city councils and 484 to rural councils. In the social arena, women have had the biggest gains by becoming active in the entertainment industry, journalism, and literary fields. There are 13 women’s magazines publishing at the national level (Neda, Payam-e Zan, Payam-e Haajar, Zane Rooz, Farzaneh, Nameh-ye Zan, Nesa, Shahed-e Baanovaan, Al-Mahjoobeh, Al-Tahereh, Hoqooqe Zanaan, Jense Dovom, and Zanan) and numerous smaller ones in small towns and local areas. There are four student magazines published by university students (Zanaane Daaneshjoo, Morghe Sahar, Sahar, and Rastaaraan). There are three feminist magazines published on the internet (Zanaan dar Iran, Zanaan, Bad Jens).
All groups of women, Islamicist or secular, skilled or unskilled, educated or uneducated, and old or young have begun to show a higher level of awareness to their conditions and to demand more control over the processes of their daily living, their relations with their parents, husbands, children, and men outside of their kin. This awareness, and its subsequent activism, are aimed at ameliorating women’s social conditions, denouncing violence against women, resisting repressive policies of the state, and opposing discriminatory laws affecting women’s lives.49
While the strategy of women’s groups in pre-revolutionary periods was based on participation in a general social movement against the state, as expressed in anti-government demonstrations in the late 1970s and early 80s, the strategy adopted by women activists in the post-Khomeini period involves accommodation, negotiation, and resistance. These strategies are gradual, incremental, and penetrative. Women activists “move in diffused directions, focus on incremental gains, empower local groups, and aim for smaller but sustainable changes. They are concerned with tangible issues affecting their lives, such as the right of divorce, child custody, and inheritance. Suspicious of the ‘vanguardism’ and ‘practical rigidity’ of leftist and nationalist movements of earlier periods,50 post-revolutionary women’s activism has a ‘self-reflective’ dimension through which women become active agents in their own lives by recurring and reinterpreting the imposed structures and relationships.51 Women are less committed to totalizing ideologies, grand theories, and broad organizations. Instead, they devote more of their political energies to the localization of global values that remove parochial obstacles to their growth, preserve their identities and dignity against the assaults by the restrictive gender policies of the state, and prepare a taller stand from which they will make their next move.”52 For instance, ceaseless complaints by women against the custody laws have not changed the religious laws governing custody. However, it has forced the state to make enough room for women to reduce the negative effects of these laws. In 1985, the parliament passed a bill giving the right of fostership of a minor to the mother, if the mother is deemed competent by the court. Recently, women parliamentarians were able to convince their male colleagues to pass a bill equalizing the pension for male and female retirees.53 Currently, a major effort is underway by women activists, both inside and outside of the state, to have the Islamic Republic join the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
There is greater individualism in the current women’s activism than has existed anytime before in the past century — an attitude grounded in and fostered by the globalizing forces of modernity. The state’s efforts for imposing a collectivist identity on Iranian women backfired and gave rise to a desire to find a balance between the extremes of Western individualism and Islamic collectivism. More and more women are trying to de-couple their identity from group affiliations (i.e., religion, family, and ethnicity) to individual definitions based on their own achievements. A more pronounced aspect of this attitude has shown itself in less interest in totalistic ideologies, political power, and revolution among women activists. Liberal Muslim women, even those with Islamic revolutionary credentials, are very pragmatic about changes in Islamic laws regarding women’s status. While some of them avoid the label “feminist” for the stated reason that Islam offers them their full rights and no external ideology is needed for restoration of their God-given rights, some others do so due to political expediency.54
Secular women have become concerned about control over the definition of their identities and their bodies as ideological battlegrounds in the Islamic Republic, and the structures conditioning their lives. In response to the government’s rules for hiding their physical and social identities, secular women have creatively devised strategies for peeling off the layers of physical and ideological covers imposed on them. As one Iranian woman has observed, “Lipstick is not just lipstick in Iran. It transmits a political message. It is a weapon.”55 In a study of divorce in Iran, Zib Mir-Hossein shows how women manipulate the law, the court, and their facts in order to reduce the negative effects of religious laws on themselves at the time of divorce.56
Issues and interests energizing the new Iranian women’s movement are nuanced and varied. They include a greater awareness of human rights, individual rights, individual autonomy within marriage, family independence within the kinship network, and a form of national consciousness against the global diffusion of modern values. The movement can be best characterized as “collective action without actors.”57 It has gained the capacity to retransmit the domination of the state’s own contradictions by reversing its imposed codes of meanings, subject imposed boundaries to pressures and
inevitably contraction, and expose the restrictive nature of state laws by personal declaration of their cruelty through various mediums available to women.
As a new social movement, the current movement lacks the necessary ingredients of the classical social movements, such as clearly defined goals and direction, strong leadership, and necessary organizations. However, despite the lack of coordination between different forms of women’s activism in different sectors of society, thus little predictability associated with them, the gradual and evolutionary effects of these activities on both women and the Islamic state are undeniable. On the government’s part, this social activism has increased the cost of its social control, requiring higher energy and social investment at a time of declining effectiveness in policy and lower compliance by women. By effectively de-legitimizing state gender ideology, the movement has reduced state control mechanisms to the use of violence. Many legitimization tools used by the state in the 1980s have become ineffective. On women’s parts, their higher self-consciousness and self-activity has resulted in a penetrating change in the public’s attitudes towards women, especially within the government and media. Women’s activism, empowered by a higher level of awareness and access to education and modern technology, has put tremendous pressure on the Islamic state to ease up on its control and restrictions.
The past dependency of women’s activism on male organization has been replaced by a highly confident attitude and determination to fight this battle for women’s rights mostly by women themselves. Despite efforts by dominant religious intellectuals in Iran and Islamic feminists,58 women activists rely on women for fighting male domination and patriarchal structure rather than on men.59 The past experiences of depending on men, political parties, and the prior success of national struggles against dictatorship and imperialism have proven to be ineffective for achieving women’s emancipation. Change through executive order has been precarious and often undesired. Women are fighting hard through NGOs and civil society organizations to build steps necessary for climbing to the height of their strength and demands. Now, women are forming their own organizations, forums, and groups, away and separate from men’s organizations. “These organizations, groupings, and collective endeavors allow them to discuss universal and national issues from their own particularistic perspective so that their specific concerns receive focused attention. Working in all-women organizations may reinforce the separatist policies of the IRI, but is an effective strategy in a traditional society with sensitivity to male-female interactions. First, it makes it much easier for women activists to establish communication and interact with traditional women, who are less comfortable mixing with secular women. Second, it provides a shield against the government’s suspicion against women’s participation in organized activities outside of the home. Third, it helps to gain the support and cooperation of religious female activists who do not wish to cross the prescribed religious interactional boundaries.
Finally, it needs to be mentioned that the current movement is broad but uncoordinated. It is broad because it includes activities of women all over the country and in almost all sectors of society: secular, religious, modern, and traditional.60 Some women have discovered the potential power of traditional formations for achieving modern objectives.61 Religious circles, gatherings for holidays, athletic and sports gatherings, musical concerts, and mountain-climbing get-togethers have all been used as venues for exchanging ideas and meeting with other activists.
In the public sphere, women are pushing for space in city councils, parliament, ministries, and mid-ranking to executive positions in economic organizations. Moreover, the politicization of women’s positions in Iran, by both the Islamic government and its opposition, transforms every action taken for or against women into a new social energy for further change. Given the wide spectrum of women’s activities and focused demands on the state, the interaction between the state and women has become a major source of change in the country. However, despite the broad spectrum of women’s activism, the movement is diffuse and uncoordinated. Different sectors of the movement pave the way for the activities of the other sectors without any direct coordination. For instance, cultural and legal activities of secular women, such as those of Shirian Ebadi, Mehrangiz Kar, Shahla Lahiji and Simin Behbahani, created grass root demands that in turn gave direction to the political agenda of religious women working within the system. Many of the issues targeted for legislative change by female parliamentarians had been debated in the publications and forums of secular and Islamic feminists. These uncoordinated activities have a high rate of iteration, multiplying each other’s effect across a wide spectrum of the social scene.
Endnotes 1. See Nateq, Homa, “Negaahi be Barkhi Neveshteh-haa va Mobaarezaate Zanaan
dar Duraane Mashrootiyat,” Ketaabe Jom”eh, No. 30, 1979: 45–54. 2. Bayat-Philipp, Mangol, “Women and Revolution in Iran, 1905–1911,” in Lois Beck
and Nikki Keddie (eds.), Women in the Muslim World, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1978).
3. Browne, Edward G., The Persian Revolution of 1905 –1909, (New York: Barnes and Noble Inc., 1910).
4. Kasravi, Ahmad. Taarikh-e Mashroteh-ye Iran (The History of Iranian Constitutionalism), (Tehran: Amir Kabir, Vol. 1, 13th edition, 1356).
5. Bayat-Philipp, Ibid.; Sanasarian, Eliz, The Women’s Rights Movement in Iran: Mutiny, Appeasement, and Repression from 1910 to Khomeini, (New York: Praeger, 1982), 19 –24.
6. For an excellent account of the rise of feminism in Iran, see Afary, Janet, The Iranian Constitutional Revolution, 1906 –1911; Grassroots Democracy, Social Democracy, and the Origin of Feminism, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996).
7. Sheikholeslami, Pari, Zanaan-e Rooznaameh-negar va Andishmand-e Iran (The Women Journalists and Thinkers of Iran), (Tehran: Muzgrafic, 1972), 143–52.
8. Bayat-Philipp in Keddie, 1978.
9. Quoted in Price, Massoume. “Women’s movement; A brief history 1850–2000,” The Iranian (www.Iranian.com). March 7, 2000.
10. Yaukacheva, M., “The Feminist Movement in Persia,” Central Asian Review, Vol. 7, No. 1, 1959; Sheikholeslami, 1972; Browne, Edwards G., The Press and Poetry in Modern Persia, (Cambridge: The University Press, 1914).
11. Bamdad, Badr al-Moluk, Zan-e Irani az Enqelaab-e Mashrootiyat taa Enqelaab-e Sefid (Iranian Women from the Constitutional Revolution to the White Revolution), (Tehran: Ibn Sinaa Publications, 1968), ii.
12. Sanasarian, 1982: 36–38.
13. Amin, Camron Michael, The making of the modern Iranian woman: gender, state policy, and popular culture, 1865–1946, (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida), 2002.
14. Arasteh, Reza, “The Struggle for Equality in Iran,” Middle East Journal, Vol. 18, No. 2, Spring, 1964.
15. See Mahdi, Ali Akbar, Women, Religion, and the State: Legal Developments in Twentieth Century Iran, Working Paper No. 38, Women in International Development, Michigan State University, 1983.
16. Woodsmall, Frances, Women and the New East, (Washington, D.C.: Middle East Institute, 1960), 80–83.
17. Yaukacheva, 1959. 18. Sanasarian, 1982: 73. 19. Sanasarian, 1982: 79. 20. Sanasarian, 1982: 79 –105. 21. Afkhami, Mahnaz, “Women in Post-Revolutionary Iran: A Feminist Perspective,” in
M. Afkhami and Erika Friedl (eds.), In the Eye of the Storm: Women in Post-Revolutionary Iran, (London: I.B. Tauris Publishers, 1994), 14.
22. Paidar, Parvin, Women and the Political Process in Twentieth-Century Iran, (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 118–147.
23. Jahani, Maryam, “Jaayegaahe Zanaan dar Bakhshe Eqtesaadiye Keshvar,” (Women’s Status in the Economic Sector), Hoqooqe Zanan, Mehr and Aban, 1379.
24. Price, 2000.
25. Hajabi Tabrizi, Vida. “Tajrobe-haaye Zendaan-e Zanaan-e Siyaasi,” (The Prison Experiences of Political Women), Jense Dovvom, Vol. 10, Abaan, 1380.
26. Kar, Mehrangiz, Hoqooqe Siyaasi-ye Zanaane Iran (Political Rights of Iranian Women), (Tehran: Roshangaran & Women Studies Publishing), 1376.
27. Afkhami, 1994.
28. Azari, Farah, “Islam’s Appeal to Women in Iran: Illusions and Reality. The Post-Revolutionary Women’s Movement in Iran,” in Farah Azari (ed.), Women of Iran. The Conflict with the Fundamentalist Islam, (London: Ithaca Press, 1983).
29. For a discussion of leftist women see Shahidian, Hamed, “Zanaan va Mashye Siyaasiye Makhfi dar Iran, 1970–1985,” (Women and Secret Political Activism in Iran), Avaye Zan, No. 30, Autumn, 1997. Also, Higgins, Patricia J., “Women in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Legal, Social, and Ideological Changes,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Vol. 10, No. 31: 477–494.
30. For rural women supporting guerrilla women, see Hegland, M.E., “Women and the Iranian Revolution: A Village Case Study,” Dialectical Anthropology, No. 15: 183–192.
31. See Mahdi, Ali Akbar. “Reconstructing Gender in Post-Revolutionary Iran: Transcending the Revolution?” Middle East Insight, Vol. XI, No. 5, July-August 1995.
32. A look at employment data shows that in 1335 there were 573,000 employed women in the country. This increased to 1,212,000 (14 percent of labor force) in 1355 (two years before the revolution). After the revolution, this number first declined to 975,000 (8.9 percent) in 1365, and then picked up to 1, 765,000 (12.1 percent) in 1375. See, Jahani, Maryam, 1379. In a different table, Behnaz Movahedi reports these numbers as follows: 12.5 percent in 1345, 12.9 percent in 1355, 8.2 percent in 1365, 8.7 percent 1370, 9.1 percent 1375, 11.7 percent 1378. See Behnaz Movahedi, “Chaalesh-haaye Eshteqaale
Zanaan No. 21, 33.
dar Iran,” (The challenges of Women’s Employment in Iran), Hoqooqe Zanan, Farvardin, 1381.
See Sh. Saidi, “Daanesh Aamokhteghaane Zan va Baazaare Kar,” (Educated and the Labor Market), Hamshahri, No. 1394, 7 Aban 1376.
See Mahdi, 1995.
For a list of unfulfilled promises made by Khomeini, and reported by one of his revolutionary supporters, look at Ganji, Akbar, Maanifest-e Jomhuri-khaahi, 2002. Published on Internet at http://news.gooya.com/2002/09/10/1009-ganji-00.php.
37. Blumer, Herbert, “Collective Behavior,” in Alfred McClung Lee (ed.), Principles of Sociology, (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1951), 202.
38. Amin, Camron Michael, 2002.
39. For an analysis of women in Marxist organizations in the 1970s, see Haideh Moghissi, Populism and Feminism in Iran; Women’s Struggle in a Male-Defined Revolutionary Movement, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994).
40. Tabari, Azar, “Islam and the Struggle for Emancipation of Women,” in Azar Tabari and Nahid Yeganeh, In the Shadow of Islam; The Women’s Movement in Iran, (London: Zed Press, 1982), 16.
41. In this paper, I have characterized this movement as a “new social movement.” There are those who use the classical model of social movement and do not see a women’s movement in Iran today. See Shaditalab, Jaleh, “Ba-id ast keh dar Aayandeh-ye Nazdik Shaahede Jonbeshe Zanaan Baashim,” Zanan, No. 89, Tir, 1381 and Moghadam, Valentine, “The Two Faces of Iran: Women’s Activism, the Reform Movement, and the Islamic Republic,” in Betsy Reed (ed.), Nothing Sacred: Women Respond to Religious Fundamentalism and Terror, (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press/Nation Books, 2002), 91–104.
42. For the latest report on these kinds of underground educational groups, see recent reports about Azar Nafici’s secret teaching of Western literature in her home. Salamon, Julie, “Teaching Western Books in Iran, and in U.S., Too,” New York Times, March 30, 2003.
43. I am borrowing a term from Homa Hoodfar, “Bargaining with Fundamentalism: Women and the Politics of Population Control in Iran.” The article is found at http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/rt21/globalism/hoodfar.html.
44. Kian, Azadeh. “Iranian Women Take on the Mullahs,” Le Monde Diplomatique, Internet Edition, November 1996.
45. Mernissi, Fatima, Can we women head a Muslim, (Lahore, Pakistan: Simorgh, Women’s Resource and Publications Centre, 1991); Mernissi, Fatima, The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Women’s Rights in Islam, translated by Mary Jo Lakeland, (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co., 1991); Ahmed, Leila, Women and Gender in Islam; Historical Roots of a Modern Debate, (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1992); Afshar, Haleh, Islam and Feminisms: an Iranian case-study, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998). For Iranian Islamic feminism, see Afsaneh Najmabadi, “Feminism in an Islamic Republic: ‘Years of Hardship, Years of Growth’,” in Yvonne Y. Haddad and John Esposito (eds.) Women, Gender, and Social Change in the Muslim World, (New York: Oxford
34. Women 35. 36.
University Press, 1998) and Nayereh Tohidi, “‘Islamic Feminism’: A Democratic Challenge or a Theocratic Reaction?” Kankash, No. 13, 1997.
46. Mahdi, Ali Akbar, “Iranian Women: Between Islamicization and Globalization,” in Ali Mohammadi (Ed.). Iran Encountering Globalization: Problems and Prospects, (London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003), 66.
47. Jahani, Maryam, “Jaayegaahe Zanaan dar Bakhshe Eqtesaadiye Keshvar,” (Women’s Status in the Economic Sector), Hoqooqe Zanan, Mehr and Aban, 1379.
48. Eric Rouleau, “Islam Confronts Islam in Iran,” Le Monde Diplomatique, June, 1999. 49. Ibid. 50. See Haideh Moghissi, 1994. 51. Kar, Mehrangiz.
52. Mahdi, 2003, Ibid.: 67. 53. Roshangari, Internet Edition, 2003.02.11. 54. See my interview with Azam Taleqani, “The First Woman Candidate for President;
An Interview with Azam Taleghani,” Pazhvak, No. 59, October 1997; and the declaration by the parliamentarian Fatema Rakei, that female Muslim activists should not be called “feminists,” Zanan, August 2000: 71. For a more nativistic approach to feminism by Muslim women, see Motie, Nahid. “Feminizm dar Iran: dar Jostejoye yek Rahyaafte Boomi,” (Feminism in Iran: In Search of Native Solution), Zanan, No. 33, Farvardin 1376.
55. Quoted by Farzaneh Milani in “Lipstick Politics in Iran,” New York Times, August 19, 1999.
56. Mir-Hosseini, Ziba, Marriage on Trial: A Study of Islamic Family Law, (London: I.B. Tauris, 2000).
57. Melucci, Alberto, Nomads of the Present: Social Movements and Individual Needs in Contemporary Society, (London: Hutchinson Radius, 1989), 75–8.
58. Although the Islamic feminists have been successful in putting pressures on religious male authorities for offering less rigid interpretation of Islamic laws, they have never been able to challenge the law itself or the right of male theologians in establishing those laws. Religious intellectuals, like secular intellectuals in pre-revolutionary period, keep emphasizing the primacy of citizenry rights over “women’s rights.” Abbas Abdi and Emadeddin Baqi express these views in an interview with Zanan, No. 58, Novemeber 1999. A recent interview by Mahtab Rahimi with a reformist, Ebrahim Asgharzadeh is also revealing, see Zanan dar Iran, Internet Magazine (www.womeniniran.com). See For a discussion of reformist views on women, see Farideh Farhi, “Religious Intellectuals, the ‘Woman Question,’ and the Struggle for the Creation of a Democratic Public Sphere in Iran,” International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society Vol. 15, No. 2, January 2001: 315–339.
59. For example, look at Hamidreza Jalaipour, “Ekhtelaate Maf-hoome Feminizm baa Jonbeshe Zanaan, baa eshaareh be Iran,” (The difference between feminism and women’s movement, with a reference to Iran) Nuorooz, No. 27, Khordad 1381.
60. Mahdi, Ali-Akbar, “Women’s Movement in Iran: Collective Action without Actors,” Zanan, No. 92, 1381.
61. Nahid Motie has emphacized this aspect of the movement. See Motie, Nahid, “Zanaan-e Iran: Harkate Tadriji, Solh-aamiz va Madani,” (Iranian Women: A Gradual, Peaceful, and Civil Movement), Zanan, No. 90, Mordad, 1381.
A key conceptual problem for observers of the Arab uprisings–academics and journalists alike–continues to be how to classify and assess the ideological transformations taking place. “The people want the downfall of the regime,” the central slogan of the uprisings, has been interpreted as anything from a return to pan-Arab sentiments to a new Arab liberalism. For some, it signaled the unification of action around a single idea that resisted the atomization of Arab societies under the neoliberal-military-Western nexus of power. Many in the West now regard the revolutionary potential more skeptically, not least due to Islamist parties winning elections. The question is whether the uprisings have produced original ideas that can foment new ideological formations, or if things have merely changed in order to stay the same? In attempting to answer the question, liberal, secular, Islamist, nationalist, along with a whole swarm of other isms (like salafism, neoliberalism and imperialism) are being thrown around rather too easily, as always. Whether we like it or not, ideology is habitually invoked to explain society and politics in the Middle East. Ideologies are both analytical categories that help scholars make sense of political ideas, and social imaginaries that help Arab individuals and societies make sense of the political worlds they occupy. They are constructs, but constructs with a life of their own that we cannot afford to ignore.
Before the uprisings, two narratives about the history of modern Middle East dominated scholarship as well as popular discourse. One claimed that secular Arab ideologies have declined since the 1970s, and the other that Islamic revivalist ideologies have become the new hegemonic force. These broad observations were rarely substantiated by studies of how ideology is produced, or by considerations of how secular and religious ideologies have borrowed from each other throughout the modern period. Furthermore, few scholars of the Middle East sought to bring recent advances in cross-disciplinary ideology theory into communication with textured social, intellectual, and political history. There have been exceptions, particularly in recent years. As Michaelle Browers showed in her groundbreaking 2009 book, Political Ideology in the Arab World, an accommodation has been taking place between liberals, socialists, Islamists and nationalists since the 1980s (albeit an accommodation often based on mutual enemies rather than common political visions). Others have made an effort to move beyond and challenge the dominant focus on intellectual history and political movements. Asaf Bayat’s Life as Politics and Tarik Sabry’s Cultural Encounters in the Arab World are two recent attempts to incorporate everyday life into our thinking about how political ideas are formed, transmitted, and lived in the region. These and other books formed the basis for my own thinking as I worked on ways to reform Middle East ideology studies from a vantage point somewhere between anthropology, media studies, intellectual history, and more traditional political science.
Then the uprisings happened. We witnessed popular mobilization on a whole new level, but phrased in terms that seemed to fall between liberalism, leftism, and Islamism, but perhaps having had nothing to do with ideologies in the first place. Maybe the compulsion to plot the uprisings into existing ideological registers merely displays the poverty of our analytical categories, or a lack of imagination. At the same time, it is equally facile to simply say that ideologies have gone away because of the popular call for a new order. As Michael Freeden has put it, there is no such thing as “post-ideology,” for ideologies are not just visions of alternative worlds, but conceptualizations of the political worlds we already inhabit. In other words, ideologies do not have to be fleshed out in neat programmatic form in order to qualify as ideologies. It also seems blatantly clear that liberalism, leftism, and Islamism—in their different varieties—have not disappeared overnight. Rather, Arab politicians, intellectuals, and activists are adapting to the new political landscapes and producing reflections on the uprisings in conversation with existing ideological traditions.
What is new, compared to the period before 2011, is the sense that something radically transformative is at play in the ideological landscape of the Arab Middle East. Many in our academic community are convinced that the “old” system of labeling fails to capture the new fluidity. A number of open questions are being posed by observers and often by events themselves. To what extent are demonstrators motivated by ideologies? Are the uprisings producing new ideological directions? In which ways are they empowering existing ideologies? Do we need to first ditch the old ideological map before we can invent anew, or do we give up on ideological signifiers altogether like the “post”-theoreticians of post-secularism, post-Islamism, and post-ideology suggest? The aim here is not to give exhaustive answers to any of these questions, but simply to offer some reflections on a possible starting point for a new conceptualization of ideology in the Arab Middle East after 2011.
Towards Cultural Ideology
To be clear, my argument is not that the uprisings were driven by ideology in the sense of elaborate strategies for a political order. My suggestion is that we adopt a more flexible concept of “ideology of everyday life,” along the lines of Bayat and Sabry, and inspired by theorists like de Certeau, Zizek, and others who have followed Althusser’s assertion that ideologies should not be seen as descriptions of the world, but rather embodied and often unconscious practices constitutive of political subjectivity. Doing so makes it possible to see how the lived experience of autocratic regimes produced registers of political language and potentials for mass mobilization. The ideology of everyday life, however, is not a completely separate entity from formalized political ideologies represented by intellectuals and politicians. The key to reforming ideology studies in the Middle East, I believe, lies in a marriage between the traditions of what Michael Herzfeld has called “cultural ideology” and more traditional intellectual history and political science.
Following this cue, and despite the drastic changes in Arab political culture over the last year, I think it makes sense to retain the big families of Arab ideologies: leftism, liberalism, Islamism, and (Arab) nationalism. The challenge is to use the terminology in a careful way that allows for cross-fertilization, fluid boundaries, and historical exchanges between the “families” of ideologies, and that speaks against common misperceptions. To take the most common, Arab leftism cannot just be grouped as secular and therefore opposed to Islamic currents. Nor can we say that liberals hold a monopoly on individual freedom. As a rule of thumb, zero-sum game descriptions of Islamism versus secularism as well as liberalism versus leftism fail to account for the many individuals and groups who borrow from each other, and who converge on particular ideological core beliefs such as social justice, individual freedom, and—of course—the need for political reform. Who can forget the image of a veiled woman in Yemen holding a placard of Che Guevara? Ideology must account for such crossovers. The key challenge is to historicize the overlaps in their different national and transnational contexts so we can begin to gain a proper understanding of the histories of Arab ideologies. Historicization is the best tool against simplistic depictions of “cultural battles” between neatly defined ideological groups.
If popular usage of ideological categories obfuscates reality, ideology theory does not automatically add any more clarity. Schools of thought and social scientific disciplines vary significantly and lead to different results when they are used in the study of ideologies. In a Marxist tradition, ideology is paramount to false consciousness used and abused by powerful actors to disguise the “base”—the real social relations of exploitation. In political science, the stark ideological contests of the twentieth century have created a legacy, where ideologies are often seen much like cultures: bounded human groups characterized by a high degree of homogeneity. This is the tradition that produces zero-sum game descriptions not just of capitalism versus communism, but—more troubling for us—Islamism versus secularism and/or liberalism. Such descriptions collapse categories of power and culture into neat packages that conform to already-taken-for-granted ideas of ideological groups, peoples, nations, and similar large-scale categories. In contrast, the way most anthropologists and social historians today look at ideology is informed by insights of the constructivist and linguistic turns in the social science of the last three decades. Rather than looking for boundedness, social historians see the existence of communities as a result of particular work aiming at producing internal coherence. This work does not just take place in political forums or in lofty political theory, but everywhere in society, and even within individuals. They stress that, like culture(s), ideologies cannot be taken as pre-given but must be critically deconstructed and contextualized when we study them historically. If ideology is a framework for the social imaginary that relates to the ideal organization of politics, then we must study it as we study social imaginaries: through broad, historicizing surveys of the public sphere.
Accepting the fluidity of the ideological landscape means that we must abandon the idea that ideologies are finite and cohesive, and instead study the processes of boundary making between them and the re-reading and re-writing of history that contributes to the formulation of new ideological positions. This can be done most productively through a combination of ethnography and analysis of mass-mediated texts and images. Simply put, if we want to comprehend how ideology is formed, we must look at life-worlds, ontologies, and the public spheres in which they are shaped, examining a variety of public culture that informs public debate, as well as less public formations such as political parties, fan cultures, and media with limited circulation. The wonderful ethnography and documentation produced in the Arab uprisings is a smorgasbord for researchers of ideology.
Ideologies in Their Middle Eastern Place
Another knotty issue in ideology theory is the universal or local nature of ideologies. Many from a liberal school of thought stress that ideologies are, by definition, ideals for a future society which easily transcend cultural and geographic boundaries–and that they derive their power from that translatability. Others would argue that, although ideologies have a common mooring in the modern era, they have found local expressions and adaptations that force us to approach them as distinct ideological traditions. Islamism is an obvious case of a modern ideological family with non-European origins. The important point is that the way Islamism, but also communism and indeed secularism, is lived and experienced varies significantly with its national, regional, and religious context. Translating this insight to secularism, Jakobsen and Pellegrini,Fenella Cannell, and others have suggested that we talk about secular traditions rather than secularism, secularization, or “the secular” in India, Turkey, France, and other places with more or less homogenous histories of secularization and debates about secularism.
If we apply this approach to the Arab countries, it might be possible to identify three interconnected secular traditions in the Levant, the Gulf, and North Africa. Reflections on the need for a secular state first emerged in the late Ottoman period–either in the Young Turk movement, or in the concurrent Arab cultural movement known as the Nahda. In the early twentieth century, a number of ideological currents influenced Arab intelligentsias. Arab nationalist and Islamists both stressed the need for a common cultural community in the Middle East. And Marxist, Ba’thist, and socialist ideologies informed political life in the Arab states that came into being on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire and Western colonialism. Secular ideologies were partly inspired by forms of Western modernism–tiermondism, socialist distribution policies, and state centralisation–but also by ordinary people’s experience of Western colonialism, and by existing forms of social organisation and institutions that predated the European colonial presence. They competed with Islamism and Arab nationalism for influence, and resulted in a plethora of groups and intellectual trends, of which Nasser’s Arab nationalism became the most popular and successful.
Since the high tide of Nasserism, there has, in Browers’ words, been a retreat from secularism both in Arab nationalist and socialist thinking. In the process, many key concepts of the old left such as anti-imperialism and social justice have fertilized Islamist ideologies. Because the decline of leftist parties has coincided with a religious revival in the Middle East, giving strength and support to Islamist groups, ideology in the Middle East is today mainly examined from the vantage point of the Islamic revival, or, alternatively, as a competition between secular and Islamic tendencies. What has been lost in this paradigmatic shift in Middle East studies is the extent to which leftism remains a strong identification that has inspired both Islamists and liberals. If we want to understand how ideology is produced in today’s Middle East and what role it plays for society and politics, Arab leftism must be part of the picture. It has been sorely understudied to date and the Arab uprisings are the perfect occasion for a comprehensive revaluation.
Secular/ization/ism in Middle East Studies
The emphasis on Islamism in our field has also had an effect on the way we discuss Arab secularism. Outside of Middle East studies, secularism has attracted significant attention in anthropology, social theory, and religious studies. Generally speaking, the interest in secularism –dating roughly from the late 1980s–does not come from a deep engagement in secularist traditions, but from the recognition that a new language of politics is needed to understand the role of religious self-expression in the public sphere. Long gone is the time when secularism seemed to have no ideological significance on its own other than the taken-for-granted absence of religion. This need for religion as the lens through which we view the secular is particularly pronounced in works on secularism in the Arab Middle East due to the perceived centrality of Islam in shaping debates about state, society, and subjectivity.
The theorization of secularism can be divided into three currents: state doctrine (secularism), historical process (secularization), and political/ethical ideal (the secular). Even in very careful and considered analyses, there is inevitably a degree of confusion between these three categories, stemming from the popular usage of “secularism” to cover all three. An additional problem with the three categories is that none of them fully capture perhaps the most common-sense understanding of secularism, namely as social identity, that is, secularism as a blueprint for the individual’s life and place in the world. When we hear in the media that so-and-so are “secular” demonstrators, it is often with reference to this understanding of a group of people who not only hold certain views about the prescribed minimal role of religion in public life, but also conduct themselves and appear in a way that is (to a Western eye) non-religious. This is the opposite of what the literature commenting on secularism in Arab countries like Egypt has actually been concerned with, namely, individuals who make choices outside the box of Enlightenment-based liberal secularism and, again, appear “religious.” Their agency is political, not by directly affecting elections and state, but in the way that they enact a new political language based on comportment, behavior, modesty, and piety. This is what Asaf Bayat calls the politics of everyday life, and Saba Mahmood has labeled the politics of piety.
Another important writer on Islamic piety, Charles Hirschkind, has recently turned to the question of secularism in light of the Egyptian uprising. He sees Egypt in 2011 as a “post-secular”, or “asecular” moment (borrowing from Hussein Agrama) in the sense that the demonstrators defied a secular-Islamist distinction which the Mubarak regime had carefully maintained for decades in order to undermine the possibility of a unified opposition. This moment built on an intellectual and political tradition going back to the Kifaya movement and even further back to the 1980s, when a number of thinkers and activists paved the way for inscribing Islam in nationalism and, increasingly, liberalism. Because Islamic identity had become so inscribed and taken for granted as part of the politics of everyday life, and because Islamist slogans by and large were not heard in the uprisings, secularism versus Islamism simply was not an issue, Hirschkind argues. It has, of course, very much become an issue again in the aftermath as established political forces have moved into the political territory cleared by the uprisings. Like in Egypt, there is in Tunisia today a looming fear of a secular-Islamist “battle of cultures,” even though it was not an important factor in the popular push to overthrow the Ben Ali regime. Decades of secularist state rhetoric does not go away overnight. Nor should we be blind to the fact that Islamist actors, some of them distinctly illiberal, see this as their moment to bring their claims to the fore.
Beyond the Islamist-Secular Paradigm
Salafists clamouring for public morality should not blind us to the crucial problem concerning ideology studies of the Middle East, namely that scholars have tended to separate Islamist and secular positions too neatly. In the crudest rendition of this ostensible zero-sum game, a dejected Arab East has today turned its back on its own modern advances during the age of colonialism and post-colonial developmentalism and returned to a pre-modern culturalist mode of Islamic politics (Bernard Lewis). A more nuanced but also flawed strain of analysis places Middle Eastern contentions over Islam in the context of a global struggle where “secularism confronts Islam” in today’s world (Olivier Roy).
Both approaches assume cohesion within each of secularism and Islamism, respectively, that becomes untenable upon closer inspection. Furthermore, the very idea that secularism is a separate ideology often obfuscates, more than it clarifies, social reality. As the 2011 uprisings made visible, an Islamic leaning does not preclude leftist positions and ambitions for democratic change, social justice, and even for secularization. In other words, the degree of individual religiosity does not predetermine political positions. There are many shades of Islamism, and while some display anti-secular stances, others take inspiration from and work with secular leftist groups. The same can be said about many leftist political movements that have abandoned previous laic stances and instead appropriate Islamic rhetoric about cultural authenticity and nationalism. In Lebanon, a note on AUB’s wall that I spotted in 2009 reads: “I am against sectarianism, but I am not secular.” It points to heated debates in Lebanon over how to reform the sectarian system–a reform process promoted both from a pious (e.g., Hizbollah) and proto-secularist (e.g., the Laique Pride movement) viewpoint.
The interventions of Mahmood, Hirschkind, Deeb and others have been crucial for our understanding of Islamism but also of the place and meaning of secularism vis-à-vis Islamism. In reaction to what many see as a secularist bias in ideology studies, their works challenge the common perception that the link between modernity and secularism is somehow obvious. Instead they have declared the pious subject as a neglected and potentially more authentic Middle Eastern modernity. These works have contributed to inscribing Islamism where it belongs: in the realm of modern phenomena. However, their insistence on a reified pious subject is as problematic as the secular bias in understandings of modernity that they challenge. Like others such asGregory Starrett who have recently criticized the “piety” literature, I believe that the usefulness of “the secular” as an analytical antidote to the Islamic revival is suspect, simply because the things we might identify as religious and secular are often entwined, and are essentially aspects of the same experience of modernity. Moreover, in Islamic circles the supposed de-secularization in Arab societies, the withering away of “belief” in secularism, paradoxically tends to dovetail with secularization in the sense of transfer of moral and cultural authority away from religious institutions. Similar trends can be observed in mass media, where the rise of an Islamic web-based umma has undermined traditional ‘ulama.
In these and other ways, the Islamic revival and its grassroots activism is producing a pious modern, but at the same time it is also engendering other social processes, which could be said to be secularizing. Indeed, the extraordinary recent expansion of mass media in the Middle East is a reason for some of the disquiet that may partly account for the new pious subject. Conversely, people who define themselves as secular are concerned about the influence of Islamist media in specific local social domains where they have traditionally held power, like the Arab media industries and the art scene. Their historical experience of having been in charge of the mighty ship of modernization is producing a secular élan–what Esra Özyürek calls a “nostalgia for the modern,” emotionally charged with longing for a period before the Arab left lost its influence. Nostalgia feeds on romantic notions of an earlier, revolutionary phase of leftism that has now been superseded by Islamism, authoritarian regimes, and neoliberal economies. If Arab leftism has been reinvigorated in the uprisings, which I believe it has, it is because leftists sense a possibility of overcoming nostalgia and finally delivering on the promises of ideological and organisational reform.
Islamist groups are tied to the modern history of the left primarily in the way they build on the rhetorical foundations of populism laid by secular Arabism, but with an added element of religiously based cultural identity and symbolism. The Iranian revolution in 1979 marked an important turning point in that respect by providing common ideals of anti-Imperialism and popular revolution. As a result, many of the secular left’s ideological focal points have merged with those of the Islamists, producing, among other things, an “Islamic left” in countries like Egypt and Lebanon, “conversions” of prominent leftists such as Palestinian writer Munir Shafiq to the Islamic cause in the 1980s, a shared human rights agenda since the 1990s, and a comprehensive attempt by leftist intellectuals to analyze what Islamism means for their societies. Similar views on the United States, Israel, and authoritarian Arab regimes have given occasion for common ground between Islamists and secular leftists. Moreover, overlaps between religious and secular ideologies and the social institutions producing them can be traced back to the early twentieth century, which points to a deeper correlation between secular and religious ideologies than what is assumed by classic secularisation theory. If historians pay attention to these deeper correlations, we will have a better chance to understand the transformations and conversations taking place in the ideological landscape after 2011.
Editor’s Note: Marie Colvin was a reporter with the Sunday Times and died of wounds sustained from an IED less than 48 hours after authoring this article. She had defied the Syrian government’s prohibition against international journalists coving the protests in Homs, Syria – and ultimately that protest would cost her life. The following is her final transmission.
by: Marie Colvin and Paul Conroy
They call it the widows’ basement. Crammed amid makeshift beds and scattered belongings are frightened women and children trapped in the horror of Homs, the Syrian city shaken by two weeks of relentless bombardment.
Among the 300 huddling in this wood factory cellar in the besieged district of Baba Amr is 20-year-old Noor, who lost her husband and her home to the shells and rockets.
“Our house was hit by a rocket so 17 of us were staying in one room,” she recalls as Mimi, her three-year-old daughter, and Mohamed, her five-year-old son, cling to her abaya.
“We had had nothing but sugar and water for two days and my husband went to try to find food.” It was the last time she saw Maziad, 30, who had worked in a mobile phone repair shop. “He was torn to pieces by a mortar shell.”
For Noor, it was a double tragedy. Adnan, her 27-year-old brother, was killed at Maziad’s side.
Everyone in the cellar has a similar story of hardship or death. The refuge was chosen because it is one of the few basements in Baba Amr. Foam mattresses are piled against the walls and the children have not seen the light of day since the siege began on February 4. Most families fled their homes with only the clothes on their backs.
The city is running perilously short of supplies and the only food here is rice, tea and some tins of tuna delivered by a local sheikh who looted them from a bombed-out supermarket.
A baby born in the basement last week looked as shellshocked as her mother, Fatima, 19, who fled there when her family’s single-storey house was obliterated. “We survived by a miracle,” she whispers. Fatima is so traumatised that she cannot breastfeed, so the baby has been fed only sugar and water; there is no formula milk.
Fatima may or may not be a widow. Her husband, a shepherd, was in the countryside when the siege started with a ferocious barrage and she has heard no word of him since.
The widows’ basement reflects the ordeal of 28,000 men, women and children clinging to existence in Baba Amr, a district of low concrete-block homes surrounded on all sides by Syrian forces. The army is launching Katyusha rockets, mortar shells and tank rounds at random
Snipers on the rooftops of al-Ba’ath University and other high buildings surrounding Baba Amr shoot any civilian who comes into their sights. Residents were felled in droves in the first days of the siege but have now learnt where the snipers are and run across junctions where they know they can be seen. Few cars are left on the streets.
Almost every building is pock-marked after tank rounds punched through concrete walls or rockets blasted gaping holes in upper floors. The building I was staying in lost its upper floor to a rocket last Wednesday. On some streets whole buildings have collapsed — all there is to see are shredded clothes, broken pots and the shattered furniture of families destroyed.
It is a city of the cold and hungry, echoing to exploding shells and bursts of gunfire. There are no telephones and the electricity has been cut off. Few homes have diesel for the tin stoves they rely on for heat in the coldest winter that anyone can remember. Freezing rain fills potholes and snow drifts in through windows empty of glass. No shops are open, so families are sharing what they have with relatives and neighbours. Many of the dead and injured are those who risked foraging for food.
Fearing the snipers’ merciless eyes, families resorted last week to throwing bread across rooftops, or breaking through communal walls to pass unseen.
The Syrians have dug a huge trench around most of the district, and let virtually nobody in or out. The army is pursuing a brutal campaign to quell the resistance of Homs, Hama and other cities that have risen up against Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, whose family has been in power for 42 years.
In Baba Amr, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the armed face of opposition to Assad, has virtually unanimous support from civilians who see them as their defenders. It is an unequal battle: the tanks and heavy weaponry of Assad’s troops against the Kalashnikovs of the FSA.
About 5,000 Syrian soldiers are believed to be on the outskirts of Baba Amr, and the FSA received reports yesterday that they were preparing a ground assault. The residents dread the outcome.
“We live in fear the FSA will leave the city,” said Hamida, 43, hiding with her children and her sister’s family in an empty ground-floor apartment after their house was bombed. “There will be a massacre.”
On the lips of everyone was the question: “Why have we been abandoned by the world?”
Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general of the United Nations, said last week: “We see neighbourhoods shelled indiscriminately, hospitals used as torture centres, children as young as 10 years old killed and abused. We see almost certainly crimes against humanity.” Yet the international community has not come to the aid of the innocent caught in this hell.
Abdel Majid, 20, who was helping to rescue the wounded from bombed buildings, made a simple plea. “Please tell the world they must help us,” he said, shaking, with haunted eyes. “Just stop the bombing. Please, just stop the shelling.”
The journey across the countryside from the Lebanese border to Homs would be idyllic in better times. The villages are nondescript clusters of concrete buildings on dirt tracks but the lanes are lined with cypresses and poplar trees and wind through orchards of apricot and apple trees.
These days, however, there is an edge of fear on any journey through this area. Most of this land is essentially what its residents call “Syria hurra”, or free Syria, patrolled by the FSA.
Nevertheless, Assad’s army has checkpoints on the main roads and troops stationed in schools, hospitals and factories. They are heavily armed and backed by tanks and artillery.
So a drive to Homs is a bone-rattling struggle down dirt roads, criss-crossing fields. Men cluster by fires at unofficial FSA checkpoints, eyeing any vehicle suspiciously. As night falls, flashlights waved by unseen figures signal that the way ahead is clear.
Each travelling FSA car has a local shepherd or farmer aboard to help navigate the countryside; the Syrian army may have the power, but the locals know every track of their fields.
I entered Homs on a smugglers’ route, which I promised not to reveal, climbing over walls in the dark and slipping into muddy trenches. Arriving in the darkened city in the early hours, I was met by a welcoming party keen for foreign journalists to reveal the city’s plight to the world. So desperate were they that they bundled me into an open truck and drove at speed with the headlights on, everyone standing in the back shouting “Allahu akbar” — God is the greatest. Inevitably, the Syrian army opened fire.
When everyone had calmed down I was driven in a small car, its lights off, along dark empty streets, the danger palpable. As we passed an open stretch of road, a Syrian army unit fired on the car again with machineguns and launched a rocket-propelled grenade. We sped into a row of abandoned buildings for cover.
The scale of human tragedy in the city is immense. The inhabitants are living in terror. Almost every family seems to have suffered the death or injury of a loved one.
Khaled Abu Salah, an activist who took part in the first demonstrations against Assad in Homs last March, sat on the floor of an office, his hand broken and bandages covering shrapnel wounds to his leg and shoulder.
A 25-year-old university student, who risked his life filming videos of the slaughter of Baba Amr residents, he narrowly escaped when he tried to get two men wounded by mortar fire to a makeshift clinic.
He and three friends had just taken the wounded to the clinic, which was staffed by a doctor and a dentist, and stepped away from the door when “a shell landed right at the entrance”, he recalled last week.
“My three friends died immediately.” The two men they had helped were also killed.
Abu Ammar, 48, a taxi driver, went out to look for bread at 8am one day last week. He, his wife and their adopted daughter had taken refuge with two elderly sisters after their home was hit by shells.
“When I returned the house was obliterated,” he said, looking at all that remained of the one-storey building. Only a few pieces of wall still stood. In the ruins a woman’s red blouse was visible; bottles of home-made pickled vegetables were somehow unscathed. “Dr Ali”, a dentist working as a doctor, said one of the women from the house had arrived at the clinic alive, but both legs had been amputated and she died.
The clinic is merely a first-floor apartment donated by the kindly owner. It still has out-of-place domestic touches: plasma pouches hang from a wooden coat hanger and above the patients a colourful children’s mobile hangs from the ceiling.
The shelling last Friday was the most intense yet and the wounded were rushed to the clinic in the backs of cars by family members.
Ali the dentist was cutting the clothes off 24-year-old Ahmed al-Irini on one of the clinic’s two operating tables. Shrapnel had gashed huge bloody chunks out of Irini’s thighs. Blood poured out as Ali used tweezers to draw a piece of metal from beneath his left eye.
Irini’s legs spasmed and he died on the table. His brother-in-law, who had brought him in, began weeping. “We were playing cards when a missile hit our house,” he said through his tears. Irini was taken out to the makeshift mortuary in a former back bedroom, naked but for a black plastic bag covering his genitals.
There was no let-up. Khaled Abu Kamali died before the doctor could get his clothes off. He had been hit by shrapnel in the chest while at home.
Salah, 26, was peppered with shrapnel in his chest and the left of his back. There was no anaesthetic, but he talked as Ali inserted a metal pipe into his back to release the pressure of the blood building up in his chest.
Helping tend the wounded was Um Ammar, a 45-year-old mother of seven, who had offered to be a nurse after a neighbour’s house was shelled. She wore filthy plastic gloves and was crying. “I’m obliged to endure this, because all children brought here are my children,” she said. “But it is so hard.”
Akhmed Mohammed, a military doctor who defected from Assad’s army, shouted: “Where are the human rights? Do we have none? Where are the United Nations?”
There were only two beds in the clinic for convalescing. One was taken by Akhmed Khaled, who had been injured, he said, when a shell hit a mosque as he was about to leave prayers. His right testicle had had to be removed with only paracetamol to dull the pain.
He denounced the Assad regime’s claim that the rebels were Islamic extremists and said: “We ask all people who believe in God — Christians, Jews, Muslims to help us!”
If the injured try to flee Baba Amr, they first have to be carried on foot. Then they are transferred to motorbikes and the lucky ones are smuggled to safety. The worst injured do not make it.
Though Syrian officials prohibit anyone from leaving, some escapees manage to bribe their way out. I met refugees in villages around Homs. Newlywed Miriam, 32, said she and her husband had decided to leave when they heard that three families had been killed and the women raped by the Shabiha militia, a brutal force led by Assad’s younger brother, Maher.
“We were practically walking on body parts as we walked under shelling overhead,” she said. Somehow they made it unscathed. She had given an official her wedding ring in order to be smuggled out to safety.
Abdul Majid, a computer science student at university, was still shaking hours after arriving in a village outside Homs. He had stayed behind alone in Baba Amr. “I had to help the old people because only the young can get out,” said Majid, 20, wearing a leather jacket and jeans. He left when his entire street fled after every house was hit.
“I went to an army checkpoint that I was told was not too bad. I gave them a packet of cigarettes, two bags of tea and 500 Syrian pounds. They told me to run.”
Blasts of Kalashnikov fire rang out above his head until he reached the tree line. He said the soldiers were only pretending to try to shoot him to protect themselves, but his haunted eyes showed he was not entirely sure.
If the Syrian military rolls into Baba Amr, the FSA will have little chance against its tanks, superior weaponry and numbers. They will, however, fight ferociously to defend their families because they know a massacre is likely to follow any failure, if the past actions of the Assad regime are anything to go by.
The FSA partly relies on defections from Assad’s army because it does not accept civilians into its ranks, though they perform roles such as monitoring troop movements and transporting supplies. But it has become harder for soldiers to defect in the past month.
Abu Sayeed, 46, a major- general who defected six months ago, said every Syrian military unit was now assigned a member of the Mukhabarat, the feared intelligence service, who have orders to execute any soldier refusing an order to shoot or who tries to defect.
The army, like the country, may well be about to divide along sectarian lines. Most of the officers are members of the Alawite sect, the minority Shi’ite clan to which the Assad family belongs, while foot soldiers are Sunni.
The coming test for the army will be if its ranks hold if ordered to kill increasing numbers of their brethren.
The swathe of the country that stretches east from the Lebanon border and includes Homs is Sunni; in the villages there they say that officers ordering attacks are Alawites fighting for the Assad family, not their country.
The morale of Assad’s army, despite its superiority, is said to be low as it is poorly paid and supplied, although this information comes mostly from defectors. “The first thing we did when we attacked the house was race to the refrigerator,” said a defector.
Thousands of soldiers would be needed to retake the southern countryside. Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father and former president, crushed his problems with Islamic fundamentalists in 1982 by shelling the city of Hama into ruins and killing at least 10,000 men, women and children. So far his son appears to have calculated that a similar act would be a step too far for his remaining allies of Russia, China and Iran.
For now it is a violent and deadly standoff. The FSA is not about to win and its supplies of ammunition are dwindling.
The only real hope of success for Assad’s opponents is if the international community comes to their aid, as Nato did against Muammar Gadaffi in Libya. So far this seems unlikely to happen in Syria.
Observers see a negotiated solution as perhaps a long shot, but the best way out of this impasse. Though neither side appears ready to negotiate, there are serious efforts behind the scenes to persuade Russia to pull Assad into talks.
As international diplomats dither, the desperation in Baba Amr grows. The despair was expressed by Hamida, 30, hiding in a downstairs flat with her sister and their 13 children after two missiles hit their home. Three little girls, aged 16 months to six years, sleep on one thin, torn mattress on the floor; three others share a second. Ahmed, 16, her sister’s eldest child, was killed by a missile when he went to try to find bread.
“The kids are screaming all the time,” Hamida said. “I feel so helpless.” She began weeping. “We feel so abandoned. They’ve given Bashar al-Assad the green light to kill us.”
Asma, the British-born wife of President Bashar al-Assad, may well be feeling a sense of divided loyalty as the violence continues in the Syrian city of Homs. Her family are from the area, which has been a focal point for many of the recent protests against her husband’s regime and the Syrian army’s brutal response.
Despite growing up in Acton, west London, Asma visited her family’s home in Homs every year throughout her childhood. She is also a Sunni Muslim, unlike her husband, who comes from the country’s minority Shi’ite community.
Asma, 36, has been criticised for displaying an “ostrich attitude”, keeping a low profile as the conflict has intensified. She has refused to comment on the way her husband’s regime has used tanks and other lethal means to crush protesters. In an email sent earlier this month, her office merely said: “The first lady’s very busy agenda is still focused on supporting the various charities she has long been involved with as well as rural development and supporting the President as needed.”
The daughter of a consultant cardiologist and a retired diplomat, Asma was born in London. She attended a Church of England state school in Acton and gained a BSc in computer science and a diploma in French literature from King’s College London.
She went on to work for Deutsche Bank and married Assad in Syria in 2000. Now a mother of three, she was once described by Vogue as a “rose in the desert”.
In Homs, the beleaguered people may now take a different view.
by: Maya Mikdashi
When the revolutions began in March of 2011, I was envious. It is not easy to admit this. Back then, before the revolutions turned bloody, before Libya and Bahrain and Syria and before the continuation of a military state in Egypt, the possibilities seemed contagious. But even then, while in the fever of January, beneath a desire for revolution, I understood that I would not see a similarly broad based and successful uprising in Lebanon. Watching the swell of people in Tahrir Square on television, I was envious of the memories they would have of that moment. Where were you the night Mubarak was finally overthrown? What were you doing when Ben Ali finally boarded that plane? These “lightbulb memories,” translated into Lebanese, usually refer to political assassinations, invasions, and outbreaks of civil violence. Watching a million people celebrate in Cairo, I understood that we in Lebanon can never emulate the Tunisians or the Egyptians for two interlinked reasons: (1) the Lebanese state is not authoritarian or brutal; and (2) instead of coalescing against a common enemy, Lebanese of different factions are pitted against each other and fear each other more than they fear any one ruler or regime. Each of these factions has a different narrative of the past, and thus they have different desires and possibilities of a future. These different pasts, each inviting a different desire for the future, are old. But they are potent.
When the war began in 2006, I was swimming laps at a beach in North Lebanon. My phone was beeping incessantly as I exited the pool and walked towards my towel and towards my friend. The first text message I received read: “Israelis in Lebanon!” Minutes later, we were watching Israeli tanks rumble through South Lebanon on television, churning the ground as they moved centipede-like into the country. Lebanon was being invaded. A war had begun. We were not surprised, but for a few minutes, watching Israeli soldiers cross a border they had last fled in 2000, I felt I was sleepwalking, dreaming another Israel-Lebanon war. I called my father and asked him if we should return to Beirut or wait for a few hours in a beach club that suddenly felt like a compound to me. He said a sentence that I remember from my earliest memories: “This is nothing. There is nothing to be scared of. You will see.” My siblings and I describe my father as cold blooded and for us, it is a compliment. During the 1975-1990 Lebanese Civil War it seemed as if ice water ran through his veins as he shrugged off nearby violence to his three young children and their American mother. Two weeks into the 2006 war, our roles would be reversed. Hearing rumors that a bridge near my childhood West Beirut home would be bombed, I packed a bag for my parents and herded them into their car, promising to follow them soon to our rented summer house in a mountain overlooking the city. I think they knew I was lying, but they allowed themselves to believe that I would follow them. They left me on the road, waving at the windows of their passing car. I felt like an adult that day.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Memory is not linear. Instead, it folds against, moving through time and space gracefully, revealing the past, present and future to be the feedback loop that is. Less gracefully, memory also stumbles across the five senses. A vision of a memory is closer than its taste, smell, feel or sound, yet it takes all of these senses to be there, or here. Memory shares the impossibility of repetition, this sense of incompleteness, with the medium of film. I remember, three weeks into the war, walking through the ruins of Beirut’s Southern Suburbs (Dahieh) with a camera connected to a microphone connected to a friend. I can see myself now, standing with a camera, but perhaps, now as I write, I am actually remembering myself on camera, on a screen somewhere in New York City before an audience assembled for a “panel” on war. As we walked, then, through roads lined with the insides of fallen buildings, it was the smell that most effected us and those few that were around us. During one scene, I was standing on a pile of concrete entrails filming an interview with a man standing on the street. He waved my friend towards where I was standing and spoke of his neighbor who was (probably) rotting silently below my dusty puma sneakers. The smell, flesh and garbage and death and sewage and burning-the inescapable scent of the human and the nonhuman mixed together in their decomposition- was everywhere in Dahieh. When I think of the war, I think of that smell and can see myself fighting the urge to wretch in front of people looking for loved ones within the ruins of a life world. But I cannot smell that stink of war, here as I sit on my desk in Beirut and write these words five years later. Words can only point to what cannot be said, seen, heard, smelled, or touched. And so we write and we remember and we speak, knowing that we can never convey this presence of absence that is the past. Memory and film are both desires for recapture, and through them we try without hope to defeat the impossibility of being there ever again.
The Lebanese civil war ended when I was eleven years old. Back then, downtown Beirut was still a frightening place filled with rabid dogs who had, it was rumored, perhaps liked the taste of human flesh. The buildings and shops of Hamra street were still pockmarked with bullet holes, the city still stunk of garbage, the streets were still veined with cracks, and billboards did not stare down at you from every vantage point. West Beirut was much less crowded than it is today, and I remember being surprised by all these people who were suddenly coming back, many of them now fleeing to Lebanon from the war in a different country, Kuwait. I remember feeling disoriented as the landmarks of my childhood were replaced with shiny new restaurants, cafes, and advertisements. As Downtown Beirut was remodeled into a living postcard, it was difficult to talk about the structural violences that pervaded the post-war “reconstruction” of Lebanon. It was difficult to resist the seduction to not remember, just as it was difficult to resist the desire to fill a nation-wide scar with promises of a shiny new future that would come to us if we would just blame “outsiders” for the war and above all, remember to buy things, things, and more things. But writing this essay, I remember the first time I travelled with my friends (and without my parents) across what used to be the “Green Line” separating the warring “East” and “West” Beiruts in order to go to the cinema. I now live in an apartment on that Green Line, but now, instead of being shorthand for “Christian-Muslim” tension, my section of the green line is riven with Sunni-Shiite tension. I am skipping ahead of myself again. In 1991, it was the first time I had been to a cinema in Lebanon. As the car, filled with twelve-year-old girls and owned by an expatriate family that had returned after the war, entered Jounieh, I remember being silenced by how clean everything was. I was shorter then, with long blonde hair, and I can see myself now feeling like a stranger then, unrelated to the shops and the roads and the people around me. I was angry, seeing these shiny shops and restaurants and clean streets pass by my window. Even then, I knew what the price of Jounieh’s relatively peaceful existence had been for the past fifteen years. I was a foreigner there, and it was not until much later that the strength of this feeling abated and I knew that in 1991 “West Beirut” produced just as much of a child’s anxiety for others as “East Beirut” did for me. But as a child, I felt that the country was an interlocking and shifting terrain of places where I was safe and where I was not safe. These places mapped easily into where I felt I belonged and where I did not. In 1991, I did not belong in Jounieh.
Twenty years later, as the uprisings succeeded in Egypt and Tunisia, a group of Lebanese citizens came together under the slogan “For the Fall of the Sectarian Regime in Lebanon: Towards a Secular Regime.” Soon their enthusiasm ebbed and flowed over their Facebook page and onto the streets of Beirut. Thousands of people walked through the city demanding an overhaul of political sectarianism in Lebanon. Inspired by the broad based uprisings that were happening across the Arab world, Lebanese of all ages, genders, classes and regions came together to try to at least force a debate on the Lebanese political system. However, this movement had a fatal flaw; in order to preserve a broad coalition the group decided to ban any discussion of either the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) or the question of Hezbollah’s arms. With this decision, a group that was dedicated to highlighting and changing the political and economic injustices endemic to the system of political sectarianism censored debate on the two most salient political issues in Lebanon today. Any discussion of the STL or Hezbollah, it was said, might splinter the group into the polarized (and overtly sectarian) camps of March 14, headed by the Mustaqbal Party, and March 8, headed by Hezbollah. In addition to this crippling self censorship (and finally, the coalition did implode when established political parties infiltrated it and there was no common political mandate to meet this infiltration with), many of these activists ignored what is perhaps the biggest lesson of Lebanese history: the individual does not alone determine her identity. We cannot ignore the roles played by other people, institutions, and histories in the formation of who we are. We can not “choose” to unbecome these classes, genders, and sectarian identities that have been forged through law, life, and the liminal space between killer and victim that saturates the war scape of Lebanese history. At least, we cannot expect to succeed at this unbecoming, particularly if we keep trying to forget and suppress all that tears us apart in order to imagine a horizon that appears at the edges of a mirage where the only causal factor in life are one’s autonomous “choices.” We cannot change the political system in Lebanon if we refuse to explore and understand how the breakdown of that system is fought, lived, and remembered differently by Lebanese citizens.
When the 2006 war began, I was with someone who had helped me put the pieces of this country together. We had grown up on opposing sides of the “Green Line” in the 1980s (back when that line denoted a Christian-Muslim divide) and met in the United States when I was eighteen and she was nineteen. I would often visit her family in Lebanon and there, I came to feel at home. We traded stories and were for years each others’ memory keepers. Stories of being children in a war, of the joys and eventual complications of having missed so much of our grade school education (bad spelling for me, less than perfect grammar for her), and stories of what life was like back then “for me” and “for you” “on this side” and “over there.” We sutured our memories together, and I felt the country whole for the first time. Her words and wounds enfleshed people, places, hopes, and fears that I had never truly, and honestly, wanted to feel. Driving to my family home in Beirut after having watched Israeli tanks on a black and white television in a beach chalet, we thought about other friends who had grown up in South Lebanon or in Beirut as refugees of southern Lebanon. We talked about how different memories of the wars had formed their childhood, and how children living in South Lebanon then would have a wholly different vision of the past, and thus the future, than their counterparts in other areas of the country. I thought of her nephews, who lived in the north and who were surely watching this invasion from the comforts of their living room. I realized that I was happy that the war was not likely to reach where they lived. I did not want them anywhere near war, and I was thankful that they were not from the south. Again, it is not easy to admit this because even then, one hour after watching Israeli tanks on television, I felt stronger knowing the war would not come to them in “their area.” The war would be elsewhere.
In Beirut that night, when it was certain that the aerial bombardment of southern Beirut would come, I was anxious. I did not want to leave this balcony that had been destroyed in 1987, until I heard the first bomb and felt its vibrations rubbing against the windows that had been replaced in 1989. I stood by the railing, craning my neck past other buildings and southwards, until the first announcement of fire. I then walked down the hallway and stared at my mother sleeping until she woke up, and together we watched the rest of the bombardment on television. Throughout 2006, this pattern would be repeated. No matter what I was doing during the day, working in displaced centers or filming, at night I would watch the war taking place one kilometer away on television. When there was electricity, of course. After the lights went out we would sit, my friends and my siblings and I, weaving fragments of information gathered from different sources into a Frankenstein of possibilities. We would talk about how different this war was from those past, guess the type of war machinery that was the author of the latest sound, and we would talk about who had left, to a different country or to a different part of this country that was still offering all of the promises of a summer in Lebanon. Our cellular phones would beep with the arrival of text messages, their information shaking our phones with urgency. When I was younger my father used to carry with him a red transistor radio. It was always in his pocket with its antennae peeking out, and he would press it to his ear to hear reports of what was happening around us as we slept in hallways and make shift bomb shelters/parking garages. And this is also how memory works, not only through incompleteness but also through time travel. Thinking of what happened five years ago will take you back twenty years. Sometimes it will you bring you forward, to two years ago or to the “mini” civil war of 2008. Sometimes a memory will even lead you to guess the future. One memory leads to another, and in Lebanon, one memory of war leads you to yet another memory of war. This impossibility of disentangling the history of the Lebanese nation state from a history of violence is precisely what inspires many activists to try to change the system of political sectarianism. However, it is important to remember that wars are fought for many reasons, by different actors, and for a plurality of incommensurate interests and ideologies. Sectarianism is not always the engine of violence in Lebanon, but it is (along socio-economic class and gender) one of the conduits through which violence is articulated, understood, planned, and executed in Lebanon.
One night in 2006, I was sitting on my favorite chair on my balcony. I was watching, and listening, to the Israeli war machine. I was not afraid. I knew that I-living in a middle class West Beirut neighborhood, was not their target. Once again, I was reminded of the lack of control one has over both their identity and their safety. I knew that despite the fact that I was an agnostic supporter of Hezbollah in 2006, I was being “read” by the Israeli war machine, the international community, and even the Lebanese government as a “Sunni Beiruti.” Moreover, I knew that this metaphysically violent misrecognition was in fact keeping me safe from the direct violence of yet another war. I had never felt so implicated in the violence wrought upon others. And yet, despite the intent to fragment and target particular sections of Lebanese citizens, there was a countermovement led by what a political scientist would call “civil society.” People from all classes, regions, and socio-economic communities raised money, bought supplies, distributed food, blankets, diapers, baby formula and sanitary napkins. They worked through days and nights trying to provide for the quotidian needs for the quarter of the Lebanese population that had fled their homes and lived in crowded apartments, schools, community centers, and public gardens both in and outside of Beirut. But this solidarity was fleeting. Soon political arguments took root, different groups refused to work together, international aid groups came in with resources that we could only dream of, and finally, the state was shamed into acting. People fought about the war, its causes and its consequences. People worried about the strain these displaced people would have on them financially, morally, and spatially. Memories of past refugees fleeing the destruction of South Lebanon to Beirut and building lives there made people anxious in 2006. Would they go home? Would they leave “our city”? Was this another form of invasion, a poor horde that would change the city’s demography and blemish its image as an open, fun, and well dressed playground for the rich? Finally, when a cease fire was declared, in Beirut the war ended. But in South Lebanon, the war continues until today, with Israeli mines still killing and maiming people and separating people from their homes and their lands. In 1990, when the civil war ended, I remember being happy. It was later that I realized that as my life moved into what others told me was “normalcy” the war continued in South Lebanon until 2000. Peace had not come to the whole of Lebanon until the Israeli army withdrew from the occupation zone. And today, the 2006 war continues, as long as Israeli weapons of destruction lie in wait under the ground, concrete and grass. Sometimes they achieve their purpose and destroy. Most of the time they lie there, smirking in the sun as the world says that the war is over.
When you have been through several wars, it is no longer cause for much excitement. Only later is there time to be still, to be afraid, and to question the way that one’s autobiography is interlaced with a history of violence. You can find evidence of the interstitial nature of autobiography and violence in the unthought mechanics of a reflex. One night in Beirut, I was in a deep sleep when an Israeli plane dropped a four-ton bomb less than a kilometer away. My friend was awake, reading next to me in bed. I shot up, pushed her to the ground and shouted non-sensically, “go go go.” I pulled her down the hallways and into the apartment’s foyer, the scene of many nights spent as a child because my parents believed (or perhaps they wanted us to believe) that the lack of windows there made it safer than a bedroom or living room. After she was in that windowless room, I went back to my brother’s bedroom and with one hand lifted his queen sized mattress (I am not, by any account, a large woman) over my shoulder, dragged it to the foyer, lied down on it, and fell fast asleep. The next day I asked my war partner why my shoulder was sore, and she gave my sleepwalk a memory, a consciousness.
During a war, it seems impossible that life will ever go back to being normal, but there is also the bitter knowledge that it will and that it must. That life will go on, and all of this will one day be a memory that will always be failing to capture what happened, and how it felt, to be there, to be here. It seems impossible that you will again chat lazily with your neighborhood baker on a sunday morning, to feel a freedom of movement around the country, or to go out for food and laughter with friends and not feel the nagging of guilt. But somehow, beneath this subcutaneous layer of thought, you know that when wars end, routine returns to the living-that this will be the past one day. You also know that you are not alone in this, that in fact you live in a country full of people whose biography is also a history of war, of being sometimes victims and sometimes perpetrators, and of being afraid of both foreign states and Lebanese militiamen of all political persuasions. These stubborn pasts pose challenges to people working towards a common future. If the the project is to fashion a common future, then what do we do with the weight of all these different pasts, different historical injuries, and different memories? Do we shrug them off and hope than the next generation will somehow be immune to them? Do we dwell on the past and pick at our scabs until they bleed catharsis? These are questions that have not been publicly debated yet, and yet these are the debates that determine the field of possibility for an alternative Lebanon. And so from here, writing from my room in Beirut, the “Arab Spring” does not marshall images of revolution. Instead, in my room in Beirut, I wait, listen, and feel lethargic. It has been five years since I wrote some of these thoughts in a black notebook that I put in a drawer when the 2006 war officially ended. It has been a year of hope, of possibility, and of disappointment throughout the Arab world. But sitting at my desk in 2011 and trying to remember war and trying to separate one war from all the others that came before and after it, I think of the way you cannot smell death on film or in memory. I think of how these words can only gesture at what I cannot say. I think of how my memories, the archive of my life, are implicated in the violence wrought against others. I think of how the memories and archives of friends and lovers are implicated in violence wrought against me. I think of the Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings, I listen to the news spilling over from Syria, and my body, that once felt envious, now feels heavy. Too tired to experience jealousy.
Upon being awarded the Best Director honor at Cannes in 2008 for his film Üç Maymun [Three Monkeys]—becoming the first Turkish director to receive this award—Nuri Bilge Ceylan declared that he wanted to dedicate the award “To my lonely and beautiful country, which I love passionately.” Ceylan’s words are very much in keeping with the melancholy quality of his films themselves: one thinks of the protagonist of his previous film, İklimler [Climates], played by Ceylan himself, a solitary figure wandering through the almost unimaginable mountainous beauty of Ağrı, in the snowy eastern province of Turkey, or the two heroes of his 2002 film Uzak [Distant], who take turns staring out across the Bosphorus, shot by Ceylan to maximize its almost painful loveliness. (I have not yet had the chance to see Ceylan’s latest film, Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da[Once Upon a Time in Anatolia], reviewed here, which was recently honored at Cannes, but it is clearly a continuation of his melancholic project.) But what exactly is this “loneliness” of Turkey that Ceylan wished to share with that audience in Cannes?
[Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s İklimler (Climates)]
A full answer to this question would have to consider the particular nature of Turkish national identity, located in the most literal sense between East and West, bridging Asia and Europe. In the much more narrow terms of literary and cultural studies, the particularity of Turkey, and of Turkish literature, film, and culture, has sometimes caused it to be marginalized, in part because it does not fit any of the existing paradigms: not part of the traditional sense of “European” culture, but also not able to fit into a new category such as postcolonial culture. If it was to be found anywhere, it would be within the category of Middle Eastern culture, but even here, the fit has hardly been a comfortable one.
In terms of the cinema of Turkey (I follow Asuman Suner in using the designation “the cinema of Turkey” rather than “Turkish cinema,” since the former phrase “places the emphasis not so much on ‘Turkishness’ as ethnic identity, but on Turkey as a geopolitical entity and a locus of divergent ethnic, religious, and cultural identities”), this problematic takes on a very particular form. Until the past decade, there were almost no Turkish auteurs receiving international attention. Occasionally, an individual film would receive international acclaim—Metin Erksan’s Susuz Yaz [Dry Summer] won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 1964, and Yılmaz Güney’s masterpiece Yol [The Way] shared the Palme d’Or 1982—but by and large, in spite of a large body of strong work (particularly work influenced by the social realist and neo-realist traditions), the cinema of Turkey has generally not figured on the map of international cinema, neither acknowledged as part of the European artistic tradition nor recognized in the way that the various national cinemas that have contributed to the “Third Cinema” tradition have. At the same time, while it has boasted a large and influential popular film industry since the 1950s, Turkey’s Yeşilçam (the industry’s nickname, which comes from a street in the Beyoğlu section of Istanbul that was the heart of the film industry) has also not received much international attention, in part because, despite its size, it never achieved the sort of regional influence that the industries of India or Egypt achieved through the dissemination of films outside their national borders. For all these reasons, cinema studies, particularly cinema studies in English, has by and large produced very little work dealing with the cinema of Turkey.
This attitude may be beginning to change. The work of contemporary filmmakers such as Ceylan, Zeki Demirkubuz, Yeşim Ustaoğlu, and Semih Kaplanoğlu, not to mention the growing reputation of the Turkish German director Fatih Akın, has caught the attention of cineastes. Meanwhile, the popular film industry in Turkey, which had suffered a period of decline in the 1980s and 1990s, has grown much stronger in recent years, and the growing Turkish communities in Europe and the United States has meant that Turkish popular films have begun to find a wider audience outside Turkey. This moment might allow us, not just to consider the current cinema of Turkey, but also to take the opportunity to revisit the full history of a national cinema that has not as yet received the international attention that it deserves. The three books under consideration in this two-part review essay—Gönül Dönmez-Colin’s Turkish Cinema: Identity, Distance, and Belonging (considered here), Asuman Suner’s New Turkish Cinema: Belonging, Identity, and Memory, and the edited collectionCinema and Politics: Turkish Cinema and the New Europe (both of which will be considered in part two of this review)—taken together, do an admirable job of laying the cornerstone for a new generation of work in English on the cinema of Turkey.
In her introduction to Turkish Cinema: Identity, Distance, and Belonging, Gönül Dönmez-Colin notes that “Scholarship on Turkish cinema is rather new and the sources available in languages other than Turkish are limited”; she cites this general lack of scholarship as her “motivation in venturing into a study of a film industry that offers challenges in its diversity, originality, and uniqueness.” Dönmez-Colin comes to this challenge having written two previous books on film from the Middle East and Central Asia and having edited the collection The Cinemas of North Africa and the Middle East. In Turkish Cinema, she displays an encyclopedic knowledge of the cinema of Turkey from its inception in the early years of the twentieth century to its twenty-first century developments. While it is not without its weaknesses, Turkish Cinema is precisely the sort of book that could help to anchor the developing field of Turkish cinema studies in English.
Dönmez-Colin frames the book around the themes of identity, distance, and belonging (although, I would argue, one of the book’s strengths is that it does not force its analysis of the films she discusses into any sort of tight coherence around these three themes), and she returns repeatedly to a sense of the dissonance to be found in Turkish identity itself. She opens with an example from a classic and hugely popular film from 1970, Atıf Yılmaz’s Kara Gözlüm [My Dark-Eyed One], starring Türkan Şoray, “the sultana of Turkish cinema” (to use Dönmez-Colin’s phrase). The film follows a familiar “star is born” narrative, with Şoray playing the daughter of a fisherman who becomes a famous singer. To prepare her for her new life, she is—in a scenario repeated again and again in Turkish popular culture—assigned to learn from a teacher of etiquette, setting up the inevitable conflict between her old “à la turca” lifestyle and the new “à la franca” culture represented by “Madame” in her cultural lessons.
[Kara Gözlüm (My Dark-Eyed One)]
Dönmez-Colin finds in this oft-repeated scenario a representation of the “polarity of identities” that continues to affect Turkish cultural identity to this day, the polarity between East and West and, more recently, between religious and secular identities. Implicit here as well is the literal, geographical split in the city of Istanbul itself, between the “European” side and the “Anatolian” side (represented nicely, in Dönmez-Colin’s book, by a still from Ceylan’s film Uzak, in which, as Dönmez-Colin’s caption puts it, “the disillusioned artist/intellectual has a moment of reflection on a bench facing the Anatolian coast and perhaps begins to see the point of view of the provincial, his suppressed ‘other’”). Indeed, one of the striking points about the cinema of Turkey is that it often reflects some of the themes and styles found in what Hamid Naficy has called “exilic cinema” (Naficy’s work is a point of reference for both Dönmez-Colin and Suner), but the “distance” represented in films such as Ceylan’s Uzak is reflective not of the sense of displacement found through literal exile outside the boundaries of the nation, but rather of a pervasive displacement within Turkish society (and, indeed, even within the city of Istanbul) itself.
Rather than taking an auteurist approach and focusing on specific filmmakers (with the exception of a chapter dedicated to the work of Yılmaz Güney—although, even in this chapter, Dönmez-Colin seems more interested in viewing Güney’s films as symptoms of their historical moment rather than as examples of the interconnected body of work of an auteur), Dönmez-Colin divides the book into a series of thematic chapters, organized around interlocking themes: “In Search of Identity”; “Migration, Dis/Misplacement and Exile”; “Denied Identities”; “Gender, Sexuality and Morals in Transition”; and “A Modern Identity or Identity in a Modern World.” As the chapter titles suggest, Dönmez-Colin’s interest is in large themes, and each chapter moves through several decades in tracing these themes.
Indeed, the first chapter traces the history of the cinema of Turkey back to its origins before the founding of the Turkish Republic. Her fascinating (if brief) overview of these early origins provides, in miniature, some of the social and political themes that will recur throughout the book, including the government’s involvement with the film industry. For example, Dönmez-Colin suggests that a documentary called Ayastefanos’taki Rus Abidesinin Yıkılışı [The Demolition of the Russian Monument at St. Stephan], shot by Fuat Uzkınay, an Ottoman army officer, in 1914 and considered as the first national film according to the official history of Turkish cinema (although there are no surviving copies of the film, and some researchers have questioned whether its existence is anything more than a myth), was made as part of a series of propaganda events “organized by the Union and Progress Committee to improve public opinion.” The first official cinema institutions were placed under the control of the army, and the shooting of the first feature film, Himmet Ağanın İzdivacı [The Marriage of Himmet Ağa] (1918), was suspended when most of the cast and crew were recruited to serve in the Dardanelles. Once shooting was resumed, the film’s Romanian director, Sigmund Weinberg, was replaced by Uzkınay after war broke out between Romania and the Ottoman Empire. This early history, Dönmez-Colin argues, was central in “establishing a solid relationship between the army and cinema, which has manifested itself overtly or covertly over the decades.” It also reveals a deep interpenetration between cinema and state politics in the very origins of Turkish cinema.
These early years were followed, during the first two decades of the Republic, by a period dominated by films made by theater directors, in particular Muhsin Ertuğrul, who made the first sound film in Turkish cinema and was also the first Turkish director to receive international acclaim, winning an award at the Venice Film Festival in 1934. Dönmez-Colin likens the hegemony of Ertuğrul during this “Period of the Theater Men” to “the one-party system of the early years of the Republic”; similarly, she suggests that the next cinematic era, “The Period of Transition,” “was a transition period for Turkish politics as well.” The guiding event that she uses to mark the third period in the cinema of Turkey, the rise of the Yeşilçam film industry, is in turn linked to the ascendance to power of the Democrat Party in 1950, since the DP advocated a form of populism that was reflected in classic Yeşilçam films by directors such as Lütfi Ö. Akad, Atıf Yılmaz, Metin Erksan, and Memduh Ün. The 1960s signal the next phase in Dönmez-Colin account, with the emergence of “a new kind of cinema…influenced by social and political changes in the country,” particularly the military coup of 1960. The ouster of the Democrat Party and the establishment of a progressive constitution, in Dönmez-Colin’s account, ushered in a more relaxed atmosphere, reflected in films that experimented with social realism, including Erksan’s Susuz Yaz [A Dry Summer], Güney’s widely-praised first film At, Avrat, Silah [Horse, Woman, Gun] (1966), and Akad’s Hudutlarin Kanunu [The Law of the Borders] (1966), co-written by and starring Güney, which eventually received wide international acclaim. However, in a sign of things to come, Hudutlarin Kanunu was banned by Turkish censors and prevented from participation in foreign festivals.
[Hudutlarin Kanunu (The Law of the Borders)]
For Dönmez-Colin, the high point of this period of social realist filmmaking, 1960 to 1965, “reflected the search for identity in a period of rapid transition from traditionalism to modernism.” She sees the period that follows as marked by a split between directors like Halit Refiğ, who saw Yeşilçam as the true national cinema and advocated a rejection of Western avant-garde forms, and advocates of the “New Cinema,” who hoped to introduce modes borrowed from European art cinema into the cinema of Turkey. The films of Yılmaz Güney were rare exceptions that managed to bridge this split—his work, such as the 1970 film Umut [Hope], managed to achieve commercial success and was also revered by the New Cinema group—but his career was decimated by political repression and cut short by his untimely death in 1984.
There followed a period of general decline; while directors influenced by Güney continued to draw praise from international audiences, the late 1970s are generally seen as the end of the Yeşilçam era, as the industry succumbed to the loss of audience occasioned by the arrival of television and the flooding of the market by Hollywood films. The coup of 1980 put a close to this phase; what followed, according to Dönmez-Colin, was “another crisis of identity in Turkish cinema.” The split that emerged from this moment of cultural and political crisis was similar to the one that marked the previous era—between those, like Şerif Gören and Sinan Çetin, who argued for a robust popular national cinema, albeit one that followed the box-office formulas perfected by Hollywood, and those, like Ceylan, Zeki Demirkubuz, Yeşim Ustaoğlu, and Semih Kaplanoğlu, associated with the “New Turkish Cinema” (or the “New New Cinema,” as some called it) and its art house tradition—although the contemporary contestation lacks something of the politically-charged nature of the debates of the 1960s and 1970s. “Corresponding to the geopolitics of the country,” Dönmez-Colin concludes, falling (as she occasionally does) into the realm of the cliché, “Turkish cinema has turned its head towards the West while its feet are grounded on the soil of the East.”
Dönmez-Colin manages to make her way through this history in approximately fifty pages. As this suggests, her strength, as a critic, is in painting with a broad brush, which makes Turkish Cinema an ideal book for readers looking for an overview of the cinema of Turkey. Particularly excellent is her chapter “Gender, Sexuality, and Morals in Transition,” where she moves through literally decades worth of films, tracing the changes (and lack thereof) in the representation of women. One particularly admirable aspect of this chapter is that it manages to suggest the powerful performances and pervasive cultural influence of iconic actresses such as Şoray, Fatma Girik, and Müjde Ar, while at the same time not ignoring how the films in which they appeared helped to perpetuate a patriarchal viewpoint. Dönmez-Colin also includes an interesting analysis of the portrayal of same-sex desire in Turkish cinema, beginning with several films of the 1960s that included scenes of lesbian desire, and focusing on the contemporary work of the filmmaker and video artist Kutluğ Ataman. Dönmez-Colin’s chapter on Yılmaz Güney, who she clearly admires both for his films and for his political example, is informative and quite moving, and her analysis of the representation of suppressed cultural and political issues in Yeşim Ustaoğlu’s films Güneşe Yolculuk [Journey to the Sun] (1999) andBulutları Beklerken [Waiting for the Clouds] (2004) is also quite strong.
[Güneşe Yolculuk (Journey to the Sun)]
Dönmez-Colin’s weakness, however, is as a reader of individual films. Given her large-canvas approach, this is perhaps an inevitable problem for a book such as Turkish Cinema. Individual films often come up more as examples of larger trends or themes than as cinematic texts to be analyzed in and of themselves; given the sheer number of films that she writes about, her attention to particular films sometimes goes no further than a general overview or plot summary. Issues of form and style seem not to be of much interest, except as they might be analyzed as reflections of larger social realities or as indicators of a film’s belonging to a particular “stage” in the development of Turkish cinema. When she is addressing filmmakers whose work she clearly admires—Güney, Ustaoğlu, and Ataman appear to be particular favorites—she will stop to linger over stylistic details and narrative nuances. With other filmmakers, she has less patience, and she can be downright dismissive when addressing the films of filmmakers such as Ceylan and Demirkubuz (although in fairness she spends a significant amount of space on both of them). This unevenness appears to reflect more on her own preferences than on the significance (or lack thereof) of particular filmmakers to the narrative of Turkish cinema that she presents. This is not a complaint in and of itself; indeed, it is rather refreshing to see a book such as this one that is so stamped by the author’s individual preferences, and it reveals her to be a critic with a passion for cinema. It does mean, however, that certain readers may come away disappointed with the treatment accorded to particular films and filmmakers (since I am a great admirer of the films of Ceylan and Demirkubuz, I would include myself in this category). However, Dönmez-Colin encyclopedic knowledge of Turkish cinema and her apt encapsulation of large swathes of cultural history help to make up for these shortcomings.
by: Maya Mikdashi
Women’s rights and the regulation of gender and sex norms in the Arab world have long been put under the spotlight by local and international activists in addition to local and international politicians and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). This year, the ongoing uprisings in the Arab world have brought into focus some dominant ways that sexual and bodily rights are framed, gendered, and politicized. These can be grouped under three loose themes, each of which deserves further study: One is the equation of gender with women and/or sexual and gender minorities. Two is the fear of Islamists. Three, is the use of gendered and sexed violence to discourage or discredit protests and revolutionaries. Such a selective focus on sexual and bodily rights obfuscates power dynamics and contexts that are always also at play when discussing a particular political, historical, or economic issue.
It is an old complaint that the study of “gender” is in fact the study of people who are not “white” (i.e., not racialized) hetero-normative men. Such an equation hides that gender is not something one can be outside of. It is not an analytic lens that can be withheld and deployed according to the genitalia and/or sexual practices of the group or topic under study. Thus we have seen journalists and academics write about “protestors” without mentioning gender until they get to the “female protestors.” The same deployment of gender is used to talk about citizenship more generally, where the “citizen” apprears as an unmarked and universal category until studies of “female” and/or “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ)” citizens (and non-citizens, by the way) disturb this chimera. When we read of these “female protestors” are we to assume that all previous analysis of “protestors” has been about men? If so, why does this not factor into analysis? Are men not gendered? Is citizenship an ungendered and undifferentiated category except when talking about female citizens? If we believe that an attention to gender is important to understanding how women live their lives, then why not extend the same courtesy to men? What power dynamics and hegemonic discourses are being reproduced with every selective deployment of “gender” in the media and in every syllabus on “politics” or “citizenship” that includes one or two weeks (yay!) about “women” or “gender?” The equation of gender with non-hetero-normative males is as old as the genesis of “gender studies” itself. We are seeing this equation play out again in coverage and analysis of the Arab uprisings, where a study of “gender” has become a synonym for the study of women and LGBTQ Arabs.
Masculinity studies is a growing and robust field that teaches us to be vigilant in questioning the ways that a gender analysis is deployed and withheld. Everyone is gendered, just as everyone, rich and poor and middle class, is “classed.” In fact, the current deployment of a gender analytic is akin to studying the class grievances, backgrounds and anxieties of only half of the Egyptian or Syrian population, for example. The assumption that socio-economic class is only an analytic to study those that are notmembers of the privileged classes reproduces international and national political and economic dynamics, alliances, and interests. Likewise the division of gender justice from economic justice lends itself to debates on female “quotas” in various parliaments that do not take into account the need for economic diversity among parliamentarians.
A second prevailing mode of framing, gendering, and politicizing the uprisings is the fear of Islamists. As Islamists gain ground in Egypt, Tunisia, and Syria concerns over their potential gender policies continue to fester. While such concerns and interest are certainly important, why do they gain such momentous traction only when it comes to Islamists? After all, have non-Islamist Arab political parties and powers had such wonderful and progressive gender policies all this time? This selective fear of Islamists rests on familiar assumptions about Islam (scary) secularism (redemptive and progressive) and other religions (huh?). Thus the victory of Islamists in Egypt’s elections is cause for anxiety (about what they might do) among international feminists and gender activists, in addition to groups and individuals such as The Center for Secular Space and Hillary Clinton. But spitting on eight-year-old girls or stoning women (yes, stoning) who violate the gender code of Orthodox Judaism is a headline, not a discourse on women’s rights and patriarchy in Israel or in Judaism. But I am sure that if women were stoned and/or spit on in he streets of Homs for not wearing the hijab it would be about Islam and about the dangers that the Syrian uprising poses to Syrian women. Similarly, the victory of Islamists in Tunisian elections is scary because of what they may do in regards to women’s and LGBTQ rights. But Rick Santorum’s bible-fueled anti-woman and anti-gay campaign/crusade says nothing about the gender politics of Christianity. In addition, many Arab secularists dismiss the Egyptian and Tunisian elections primarily because Islamists won, and many try to dismiss the Syrian uprising by branding it “Islamist.” Interestingly, many of these thinkers were (rightly) quick to condemn Israel and the United States’ refusal to work with Hamas after their electoral victory. To paraphrase Fawwaz Traboulsi: Islamists won. Deal with it. Traboulsi also makes the important point that now that they are in power, Islamists will actually be held accountable for all the fantastical promises they have made for decades. We will now get to see, for example, if Islam, or this brand of it, is truly the answer to a chronically clogged sewage system in Cairo. For their part, some mainstream journalists have become obsessed with finding the women on the streets of Syria. When they find them they describe their clothing with the type of attention to detail that can only indicate something of deep significance. Thus women protesting in Syria are in “western dress” or not, they are “secular looking” or not, and some of them (believe it or not) have boyfriends and drink alcohol.
Gender equality and justice should be a focus of progressive politics no matter who is in power. A selective fear of Islamists when it comes to women’s and LGBTQ rights has more to do withIslamophobia than a genuine concern with gender justice. Unfortunately, Islamists do not have an exclusive license to practice patriarchy and gender discrimination/oppression in the region. The secular state has been doing it fairly adequately for the last half a century.
The third frame we can employ to understand dominant discourses related to the uprisings are the uses of gendered and sexed violence to discourage or discredit protests and revolutionaries. The Mubarak regime and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) have used sexual violence to discourage and discredit Egyptian protestors and revolutionaries. Female protestors and activists have been subjected to “virginity tests,” vicious beatings, and charges of immorality. In fact, everywhere there has been an uprising, the regime in question has propagated a discourse of immorality among male and female protestors. In Yemen women were actively discouraged from joining protests by security forces who targeted them for repression. In Bahrain a cry for “public morality” was thrown against men and women fighting to overthrow a repressive monarchy. Such statements are meant to discredit protests and protestors as cesspools of immorality and sexual licentiousness. In turn, the spectacle of Egyptian security forces publicly beating and dragging a woman down a street is a warning to others. It is forcefully implied that women and men should stay at home and away from the impunity with which (secular) security forces can violate a protestors’ body.
Arab regimes are not the only actors using sexed and gender violence to discredit protestors and revolutionaries in the Arab world. As the hysteria surrounding the sexual assault of Lara Loganrevealed in the days when the United States was still trying to assure Mubarak’s longevity, the protestors were in fact a sex crazed reactionary and dangerous mob. In addition, “women’s rights” in Egypt and Tunisia have been twinned with the type of state feminism advocated by their respective former first ladies, a cynical use of gender rights by authoritarian regimes that were thus branded ‘reformers’ by their western allies. In fact, reading the American press, it seems that the daily reality of sexual violence is important only to the extent that it can be harnessed to other political causes and projects. Furthermore, a selective emphasis on some sexual and gender violence decontextualizes those violences from the larger infrastructures of oppression that people live under. For example, Israeli attempts at “pinkwashing” its settler colonization of Palestine highlight how Israel saves gay Palestinians from their Islamic culture. In this way, the Israeli state hopes to paint Palestinians as homophobic Islamic fundamentalists in order to discredit now well over a century of resistance against settler colonialism and apartheid.
These are frames that have been used to discuss “gender” in the Arab uprisings: One, gender means women and gays. Two, Islamists (and only Islamists) are scary and dangerous to women and sexual minorities. Three, the legitimacy of a popular uprising and/or revolutionary struggle can be gauged by how it treats “their women” and “their gays.” All three of these frames are highly selective and politicized. Furthermore, each reproduces and invites practices of patriarchy, Islamophobia, authoritarianism, and colonialism. By using these frames gender justice is divorced from struggles for economic and political justice, and the revolutionary potential of this three way marriage is once again smothered.
One: Gender is not the study of what is evident, it is an analysis of how what is evident came to be.
Two: Before resolving to write about gender, sexuality, or any other practice or aspect of subjectivity in the Middle East, one must first define what exactly the object of study is. Be specific. What country, region, and time period forms the background picture of your study? Furthermore, the terms “Middle East,” “the Islamic World” and the “Arab world” do not refer to the same place, peoples, or histories, but the linkages between them are crucial. Moreover, the “state” is a relatively new phenomenon in the Middle East. In order to study gendered political economy in Syria, for example, one must be aware of the Ottoman and regional history that has produced this gendered political economy in the area that we now call “Syria.”
Three: A study of gender must take into account sexuality. Likewise studies of sexuality cannot be disarticulated from gender analysis. To do so would be akin to studying the politics and history of the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) without reference to the role of idealogy or the socio-economic policies of the Iraqi state.
Four: Gender is one aspect of individual and group subjectivity. It is also just one technology of governmentality—the production and regulation of ties between the individual body, populations, and structures of power and quantification. Moreover, studies of politics, history, and law must take into account gender and sex, just as such studies must be attentive to class, race, political economy and-crucially- how all of these factors interact.
Five: The ungendered body does not exist, just as the unclassed body does not exist. Such disarticulation reproduces the false tropes of the ungendered body and of ungendered politics and the unclassed body and unclassed politics. These in turn reaffirm the positioning of normative male political practices as somehow “unmarked” and universal. Such an equation hides that gender is not something one can be outside of. It is not an analytic lens that can be withheld and deployed according to genitalia and/or sexual practices of the people being studied. When an attention to gender is limited to female and/or LGBTQ people in the Middle East, it reproduces the study of gender as the study of how (other) men treat “their” women and gays.
Six: Avoid tokenism and broad generalizations. Sometimes a hijab is just a hijab, and sometimes it is not.
Seven: Do not assume that gender politics or feminist concerns come in neat and familiar packages. Instead, allow your research to expand your view of what a “feminist politics” may be. It could be, for example, that protests against neoliberal market restructuring in Egypt are understood within a broad political framework that includes notions of gender justice. As Saba Mahmood and Lila Abu Lughod have taught us, liberal feminism’s assumptions as to what constitute “feminist politics” or “feminist causes” are at best flawed. At worst they are exercises in epistemological hegemony and the violent remaking of the world according to secular and neoliberal rights frameworks. Furthermore, do not assume that what we call the “feminist canon” is exhaustive or that it is not constituted through a series of exclusions, hierarchies, and imperial histories. After all Simone de Beauvoir, who taught us all that a woman is not born but made, also wrote in terms we now recognize as “Islamophobic” about women “under” Islam in Algeria at the time when Algeria was a French settler colony. This does not mean we should dismiss de Beauvoir, just as it would be too easy to condemn Hegel or Marx for their “views” on Africa. Rather, it is crucial to critically inhabit and navigate the reality that the western canon was, and is constituted through producing a series of “selves” and “others.”
Eight: I know this is hard to believe, but Islam may not be the most important factor, or even a particularly important factor, when studying gender in Muslim majority countries or communities. For example, I have studied the Lebanese legal system, focusing on personal status, criminal and civil law, for years now. Despite the intricate ways that these interconnected bodies of law produce citizenship in Lebanon, whenever I discuss my work my interlocutors invariably want to know more about shar‘ia and its assumed “oppression” of women. These questions always come after I have carefully explained that in Lebanon certain Christian and Jewish personal status laws are much more stringent in their production and regulation of normative gender roles than codified Islamic personal status laws (which are not the same as shar‘ia, historically speaking). In addition, civil laws have more wide reaching “gender effects” than any religious personal status law. More broadly, Islam is not the only religion in the region, although it often seems to be in mainstream media coverage. When an action such as the hitting of women by men for not conforming to “proper” gender roles in ultra orthodox neighborhoods of Jerusalem or in conservative neighborhoods of Riyadh is scripted in radically different terms the reader should pause. At these moments you are not reading about Islam, you are reading within a discourse about Islam.
Nine: Questions of gender rights and gender justice are not new to the Middle East, and neither are struggles that we now read under the sign of “feminism.” In fact, a large portion of the laws that are often regarded as oppressive to women and LGBTQ Arabs and/or Muslims are relatively new. They were introduced to the region via the Napoleonic code and the codification and the severe hollowing out of the shar‘ia in modern history. For example abortion, long considered a question of women’s rights in the Western world due its twinned history with Catholicism and Christianity more broadly, was not illegal across the Arab world until the rise of the nation state. Some traditions of fiqh continue take a position on abortion that American feminists might wish could be extended to the United States today. In addition, jurists have and do struggle to understand and promote “progressive” notions of male and female relations and to make room for nonconforming gender persons in the region. In fact, scholars such as Paula Sanders have shown us that several centuries ago Islamic jurists were developing a system of accommodation for hermaphrodites and nonbinary gendered peoples in Islamic communities.
Ten: Do not assume that you know the actors and factors affecting gender in the Middle East, or the productive role your scholarship might play in this dynamic. Institutions such as the IMF and Human Rights Watch have long been engaged in the production of normative heterosexuality and heterosexual families, for example. The Israeli settlement of historical Palestine also intervenes into the gendered and sexual fabric of indigenous Palestinians, as pinkwatcing activists have recently reminded us. Similarly, the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan function in part through the construction of interventionist platforms in the name of women’s and LGBTQ rights. Other factors affecting the practice of gender and sexuality in the Middle East include technological innovations such as in vitiro fertilization, viagra, and reconstructive hymen surgery in addition to pop culture, the rapid tranformation of the global economy, and the international circulation of people, discourses and goods.
by: Hani Sabra
Ballot counting continues as Egypt’s first round of elections, in which a third of the country voted, comes to a close. We now know that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, with the weight of an 83-year old organization behind it, will come out on top. But the real surprise has been the success of the more hardline, ultraconservative Salafi Nour (Light) Party. Nour could capture roughly a quarter of the seats in the first round, and there’s no reason to believe that it can’t replicate that performance in the upcoming two rounds.
Nour’s success unsettles many moderate Egyptian Muslims, liberals, and Christians who fret about the potential impact on their personal lives. How will an Islamist-dominated parliament approach banking, tourism, and foreign investment? But Nour has probably unsettled the Muslim Brotherhood too. The upstart Salafis, who until recently did not participate in politics — many of them still say that democracy is “kufr” (non-belief) — have encroached on the Muslim Brotherhood’s traditional territory. Thus, an increasingly critical question in post-Hosni Mubarak Egypt is not how the liberals will fare against the Islamists; that’s already been answered. Rather, it is: Who wins the right to speak for Egypt’s Islamists?
There are roughly three main Islamist political trends in Egypt, and together they will form a supermajority in parliament. The Muslim Brotherhood represents the right-wing, conservative, pragmatic wing of the movement. The rising Salafis represent the more reactionary, uncompromising wing, and parties like Al-Wasat (The Center), who will be by far the smallest Islamist party in parliament, represent a third trend that seeks to emulate Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The three groups have legitimate reasons to believe they can seize the Islamist mantle and settle the question of who speaks for Islam.
With their electoral success and their unparalleled organizational skills, the Muslim Brotherhood is in a strong, but delicate, position. It remains unlikely that Egypt will have an Islamist-only parliamentary coalition, and electoral success strengthens the Brotherhood’s hand with non-Islamists parties, because it allows the Brotherhood essentially to dictate the terms of any parliamentary coalition that excludes Salafis. Non-Islamist parties may dislike the Brotherhood, but they understand that its leadership is essentially pragmatic and unlikely to introduce radical changes that impact the economy or peoples’ personal lives in the short term. The Brotherhood leadership has spokesmen who shave their beards and talk up the need for foreign investment. It also includes a senior Christian member.
But the Brotherhood has to move carefully and can ill afford to alienate the Salafis. For rank-and-file Brotherhood members, the line between a Brother and a Salafi is blurry. It’s almost certain that potential FJP voters chose Salafi candidates or parties at the ballot box. And more Brothers could jump ship if the Salafis illustrate that they better represent “true Islam.”
The Brotherhood is in a complicated position, trying to hew to the right in the provinces, while behaving “moderately” in Cairo and outside Egypt. In some cases, the Salafis and the Brotherhood will collaborate, but it will likely be a more competitive (and unpredictable) relationship.
Hani Sabra is an analyst in Eurasia Group’s Middle East practice.
About 6 million fled as Afghan refugees to Pakistan and Iran, and from there over 38,000 made it to the United States. and many more to the European Union. Faced with mounting international pressure and great number of casualties on both sides, the Soviets withdrew in 1989. Their withdrawal from Afghanistan was seen as an ideological victory in America, which had backed some Mujahideen factions through three U.S. presidential administrations to counter Soviet influence in the vicinity of the oil-rich Persian Gulf. The USSR continued to support President Mohammad Najibullah (former head of the Afghan secret service, KHAD) until 1992.
In response to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the Reagan administration in the U.S. increased arming and funding of the Mujahideen who began a guerilla war thanks in large part to the efforts of Charlie Wilson and CIA officer Gust Avrakotos. Early reports estimated that $6–20 billion had been spent by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, but more recent reports state that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia provided as much as up to $40 billion in cash and weapons, which included over two thousand FIM-92 Stinger surface-to-air missiles, for building up Islamic groups against the Soviet Union. The U.S. handled most of its support through Pakistan’s ISI. Saudi Arabia was also providing financial support.
Afghan leaders such as Ahmad Shah Massoud received only minor aid compared to Hekmatyar and some of the other parties, although Massoud was named the “Afghan who won the cold war” by the Wall Street Journal.
Massoud’s part in the driving the Soviet army out of Afghanistan earned him the nameLion of Panjshir. His followers call him Āmir Sāhib-e Shahīd (Our Beloved Martyred Commander). He strongly rejected the interpretations of Islam followed by the Taliban,Al Qaeda or the Saudi establishment. His followers not only saw him as a military commander but also as a spiritual leader.
In April 1992, the Islamic State of Afghanistan was created, following the fall of the Soviet-backed Najibullah government.
Afghanistan was in a state of unsettled transition, with an interim government. Atrocities were committed by individuals of the different factions while Kabul descended into lawlessness and chaos, according to Human Rights Watch.
In 1994, the Taliban developed in Afghanistan as a politico-religious force, a movement originating from Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-run religous schools for Afghan refugees in Pakistan. In 1994 the Taliban took power in several provinces in southern and central Afghanistan.
The Taliban started shelling Kabul in early 1995 but at that time were defeated by forces of the Islamic State government.
“This is the first time in several months that Kabul civilians have become the targets of rocket attacks and shelling aimed at residential areas in the city.”
Amnesty International 1995 report
On September 26, 1996, as the Taliban with military support by Pakistan and financial support by Saudi Arabia prepared for another major offensive and the next day the Taliban seized Kabul and established the established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. They imposed on the parts of Afghanistan under their control their political and judicial interpretation of Islam issuing edicts forbidding women to work outside the home, attend school, or to leave their homes unless accompanied by a male relative.
“To PHR’s knowledge, no other regime in the world has methodically and violently forced half of its population into virtual house arrest, prohibiting them on pain of physical punishment.”
Physicians for Human Rights, 1998
According to a 55-page report by the United Nations, the Taliban, while trying to consolidate control over northern and western Afghanistan, committed systematic massacres against civilians.
Upon taking Mazar-i-Sharif in 1998, about 4,000 civilians were executed by the Taliban and many more reported tortured. The documents also reveal the role of Arab and Pakistani support troops in these killings. Bin Laden’s so-called 055 Brigade was responsible for mass-killings of Afghan civilians.
Meanwhile, Ahmad Shah Massoud served as military commander and political leader of the United Islamic Front (Northern Alliance) from 1996 until his assassination in 2001. When the Taliban seized Kabul, Massoud and his troops retreated to the northeast of Afghanistan.
From the Taliban conquest in 1996 until November 2001 the United Front controlled roughly 30% of Afghanistan’s population in provinces such as Badakhshan, Kapisa, Takhar and parts of Parwan, Kunar, Nuristan, Laghman, Samangan, Kunduz, Ghōr and Bamyan
Human Rights Watch cites no human rights crimes for the forces under direct control of Massoud for the period from October 1996 until the assassination of Massoud in September 2001. As a consequence many civilians fled to these regions.
In the areas under his control, Massoud set up democratic institutions and signed the Women’s Rights Charter. in these regions, women and girls did not have to wear the Afghan burqa by law. They were allowed to work and to go to school. Massoud personally intervened against cases of forced marriage in favour of the women to make their own choice.
The Taliban repeatedly offered Massoud a position of power to make him stop his resistance.Massoud wanted to convince the Taliban to join a political process leading towards democratic elections in a foreseeable future.
In early 2001 Massoud addressed the European Parliament in Brussels asking the international community to provide humanitarian help to the people of Afghanistan. He warned that his intelligence had gathered information about a large-scale attack on U.S. soil being imminent. Massoud also stated that the Taliban and Al Qaeda had introduced “a very wrong perception of Islam” and that without the support of Pakistan the Taliban would not be able to sustain their military campaign for up to a year.
On September 9, 2001, two Arab suicide attackers, allegedly belonging to Al Qaeda, posing as journalists, detonated a bomb hidden in a video camera while interviewing Ahmed Shah Massoud in the Takhar province of Afghanistan. Commander Massoud died in a helicopter that was taking him to a hospital. The year following his assassination, in 2002, Massoud was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. The date of his death, September 9, is observed as a national holiday known as “Massoud Day” in Afghanistan.
“He was the only one, ever, to serve Afghanistan, to serve Afghans. To do a lot of things for Afghanistan, for Afghans. And we lost him …”
Afghan journalist Fahim Dashty
Two days after Massoud’s assassination, 19 terrorists from al-Qaeda hijacked four passenger jets and notoiously crashed two planes into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City.
When the Taliban refused to hand over bin laden to U.S. authorities and refused to disband Al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan, the U.S. and British air forces began bombing al-Qaeda and Taliban targets inside Afghanistan.
From 2002 onward, the Taliban began regrouping while more coalition troops entered the escalating US-led war with insurgents. Meanwhile, NATO assumed control of ISAF in 2003 and the rebuilding of Afghanistan began. he European Union, Canada and India also play a major role in reconstruction.
By 2009, a Taliban-led shadow government began to form complete with their own version of mediation court. According to a report by the United Nations the Taliban were responsible for 76 % of civilian casualties in 2009.
In 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama deployed an additional 30,000 soldiers over a period of six months and proposed that he will begin troop withdrawals by 2012.
At the 2010 International Conference on Afghanistan in London, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he intends to reach out to the Taliban leadership. Supported by senior U.S. officials Karzai called on the group’s leadership to take part in a loya jirga meeting to initiate peace talks.
Many Afghan groups believe that Karzai’s plan aims to appease the insurgents’ senior leadership at the cost of the democratic constitution, the democratic process and progess in the field of human rights especially women’s rights.
Afghanistan still remains one of the poorest countries due to the results of 30 years of war, corruption among high level politicians and the ongoing Taliban insurgency from Pakistan.
Gender equality is an issue which is never far from the minds of many young Afghans, both women and men.
There are concerns that, in efforts to ‘reach out’ to the Taliban leadership, President Hamid Karzai may be forced to severely compromise on issues affecting women in particular.
It is hoped that such fears will be addressed at the International Conference on Afghanistan in Bonn, Germany, will take place on 5 December 2011.
Wikipedia: History of Afghanistan
Wikipedia: Ahmad Shah Massoud
Amnesty International Document: Afghanistan: Further information on fear for safety and new concern: deliberate and arbitrary killings: Civilians in Kabul
UNHCR – Refworld – Afghanistan: Situation in, or around, Aqcha (Jawzjan province) including predominant tribal/ethnic group and who is currently in control
Human Rights Watch Backgrounder – Military Assistance to the Afghan Opposition
Chicago Tribune – Taliban massacres outlined for UN
The Telegraph – Afghanistan resistance leader feared dead in blast
The Last Interview with Ahmad Shah Masood – Hoja Bahauddin- conducted by Piotr Balcerowicz
North Atlantic Treaty Organization – NATO’s role in Afghanistan
ABC News – Pakistan Accused of Helping Taliban
The Telegraph – Wikileaks: Pakistan accused of helping Taliban in Afghanistan attacks
The Weekly Standard – UN: Taliban Responsible for 76% of Deaths in Afghanistan
The Washington Post – Taliban establishes elaborate shadow government in Afghanistan
Scotsman.com – Karzai’s Taleban talks raise spectre of civil war warns former spy chief
NPR – Abdullah Abdullah: Talks With Taliban Futile
Afghan News Centre – Afghan FM Welcomes More NATO Peacekeepers
University of Missouri – CIA – The World Fact Book – Afghanistan
Law.com – Despite Obama Ban, Official’s Lobbyist Past No Obstacle
Canada in Afghanistan – The War So Far – by Peter Pigott
A film by Ali Samadi Ahadi
Green is the color of hope. Green is the color of Islam. And Green was the symbol of recognition among the supporters of presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who became the symbolic figure of the Green Revolution in Iran last year. The presidential elections on June 12th, 2009 were supposed to bring about a change, but contrary to all expectations the ultra-conservative populist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was confirmed in office. As clear as was the result, as loud and justified were the accusations of vote-rigging. The on-going Where is my vote? protest demonstrations were again and again worn down and broken up with brutal attacks by government militia. Images taken from private persons with their cell phones or cameras bear witness to this excessive violence: people were beaten, stabbed, shot dead, arrested, kidnapped, some of them disappearing without trace. What remains is the countless number of dead or injured people and victims of torture, and another deep wound in the hearts of the Iranians.
THE GREEN WAVE is a touching documentary-collage illustrating the dramatic events and telling about the feelings of the people behind this revolution. Facebook reports, Twitter messages and videos posted in the internet were included in the film composition, and hundreds of real blog entries served as reference for the experiences and thoughts of two young students, whose story is running through the film as the main thread. The film describes their initial hope and curiosity, their desperate fear, and the courage to yet continue to fight. These fictional ‘storylines’ have been animated as a motion comic – sort of a moving comic – framing the deeply affecting pictures of the revolution and the interviews with prominent human rights campaigners and exiled Iranians. Ali Samadi Ahadi’s documentary is a highly contemporary chronicle of the Green Revolution and a memorial for all of those who believed in more freedom and lost their lives for it.
Following the award-winning documentary LOST CHILDREN that he did together with Oliver Stoltz (among others the German Film Award) and his affectionate comedy SALAMI ALEIKUM – in his film THE GREEN WAVE Ali Samadi Ahadi reflects the dramatic events before and after the presidential elections 2009 in Iran. Like an eager sigh, like an unstoppable wave, the desire for more freedom began to spread out in Iran last summer. The color Green of the supporters of presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi became the ever-present symbol of a potential change. But on election day the peaceful revolution failed and the regime under Ahmadinejad took action against the oppositionists, activists and demonstrators with a brutality almost too difficult to imagine.
Framed by animated ‘scenes’ which from the perspective of two young students convey a sense of the events, the film shows the real pictures of the revolution, taken with cameras or cell phones: election meetings, demonstrations, unrest and finally the attacks of the militia with batons and knives. Ahadi’s film produced by Oliver Stoltz and Jan Krueger (both of Dreamer Joint Venture Filmproduktion) is a courageous and encouraging collage composed of blog quotes, real video recordings, illustrative interviews with prominent exiled Iranians and human rights activists, and of a motion comic narrative thread – resulting in a stirring plea, an appeal for awareness and actions, and a shaking up, shocking and touching chronicle of the Green Revolution in Iran.
“For a few weeks we had the feeling of being so close to our goal as never before …” – blog entry.
The Green Revolution in Iran owes its name to the color that became the symbol of recognition among the supporters of presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Being the color of Islam and the color of hope, and being one of the Iranian national colors this Green unfolded an unforeseen signal effect and symbolic power going far beyond the mere commitment to Mousavi. It was not just about election campaigning, not even about dissatisfaction with the regime under Ahmadinejad, but about a new collective spirit and the confidence that there could be another way for Iran, a way that is not characterized by reprisals, oppressions and despotism. This Green was the signal to set out, the symbol of courage and of the chance for a change that had been considered improbable for a long time.
In the streets of Tehran and other big cities, the euphoria was evident: cloths, bracelets, scarfs, nail polish, almost anything was appropriate as a green greeting, as an attribute of peaceful unity and as a gesture of rebellion.
Though news coverage from Iran was almost impossible, the Green Movement could also be sensed abroad, where usually nothing but Ahmadinejad’s provocations were received. Twitter and Facebook messages, YouTube videos and especially numerous blogs reflected an unforeseen euphoric mood. The Iranian blogger scene, which is considered to be one of the largest in the world, came up in the years 1999 to 2003 at the height of the reform movement of those days. Since 2005 this internet forum has had to struggle with more strict controls by the regime und has been curtailed as much as possible. Any blogger making critical comments has to live with the risk of prosecution by the government. In the months before the presidential elections in 2009 this scene started to flourish again and the internet has become an important vital lifeline for the revolution.
Over a thousand different entries in Iranian blogs have been the inspiration for the two ‘fictional’ students – their thoughts being the emotional thread running through the real events: how they perceive the awakening of the Green Movement, how they wake up from a frustrating hopelessness and feel that there is after all a chance to shape the future, how they become desperate with fear beginning to grow again, and how they despite all that do not give up hope.
The stories of the students Azadeh and Kaveh are animated as a motion comic, and rich in contrast going along with the real video images of the revolt and with the interviews with prominent Iranian personalities and human rights activists like Dr. Shirin Ebadi (Noble Peace Prize winner), the Shiite cleric Dr. Mohsen Kadivar (one of the most important critics of the Islamic Republic), the young journalist Mitra Khalatbari, Dr. Payam Akhavan (former UN war crimes prosecutor and a specialist in human rights), or with Mehdi Mohseni (blogger and election assistant to Mir-Hossein Mousavi).
The hopes of the Green Movement for a victory of Mousavi and for reforms were bitterly dashed on the election day and the accusations of vote-rigging still called people into the streets. But ever since the supreme clerical leader of Iran, Khamenei, declared the election result official and uttered an explicit threat to the protesters, the measures against the peaceful resistance became more and more brutal. The images of Neda killed by a shot in the chest during a demonstration shortly afterwards went around the world. Countless videos taken with cameras or cell phones and put on the internet give evidence for the excessive brutality that the government militia used against the demonstrators: militias driving on motorbikes into the crowd of people, beating them with knives and batons, or treading on casualties lying defenselessly on the ground. The regime systematically took action against the ongoing protests, against oppositionists and – like in a frenzy of violence – also against innocent bystanders. Raids at night, arrests on a large scale, never-ending interrogations, raping, abductions, torture – any desire for freedom, any thought of rebellion should be suppressed with inhuman cruelty. Up to this day the pressure of the regime continues, but although the Green Revolution has been subjugated with every available means, the desire of the people for more freedom and dignity is unbroken – just as is their willingness to fight for it.
DIRECTOR ALI SAMADI AHADI ABOUT HIS FILM
It was June 12th, 2009. After having worked very hard for two years all of us were very much looking forward to the premiere of our comedy SALAMI ALEIKUM. From all over Germany our colleagues gathered together for the International Film Festival in Emden where the film would be shown to the public for the first time. On the very same day my wife and I went to Bonn to submit our voting slip for the presidential elections in Iran. I always felt both, as an Iranian and as a German. So did my wife. We met in the no man’s land of cultures and tried to bring together in our lives the positive aspects of both of the two worlds.
Ali Samadi Ahadi
On the very same evening of June 12th it suddenly became clear that one of those worlds was in flames. Despite SALAMI ALEIKUM being a great success in Emden, our team did not at all feel like celebrating. We felt kind of petrified. Paralyzed. And this feeling of helplessness was to remain for weeks. Iran was in flames and we could not do anything. Day by day we were sitting in front of the television for hours, being on the phone with each other, one in Vienna, the others in Berlin and Cologne. Silent. We were not in the mood for talking, but then again did not want to be alone during these hours. We moved together – if only on the phone.
It really took me weeks to get out of this dizziness and to take the decision to do what I can do best: a film about the events in Iran in the summer of 2009.
But very soon it became clear that we had to find a special narrative style for this, because for the events behind us there existed only fragmentary poor-quality pictures taken with cell phones or images from archives covering the situation only in part. A reenactment was out of question for me, especially since it was clear to me that as long as the regime in Iran was in power I could no longer visit Iran.
Iran is a nation of bloggers. Thousands of young people write down their feelings, write down what is on their minds in their blogs. If it was no longer possible for me to shoot my film in Iran, to interview the people there, these blogs were exactly the right source to reach the inner voices of the people.
For a long time Ali Soozandeh and I have been searching for an adequate visual language, when we came across the so-called motion comic to tell about these blogs. I chose 15 blogs from 1,500 websites which we then translated into images. We attracted a range of actors like Pegah Ferydoni, Navid Akhavan, Jasmin Tabatabai and Caroline Schreiber. With them we re-enacted the scenes and took photos.
Alireza Darvish, a wonderful artist, accepted to do the drawings of the characters, and Sina Mostafawy and his team began with the animation of the scenes. Finally, from the archive material, the recently shot interviews, the pictures from cell phones and the animations, Barbara Toennieshen and Andreas Menn composed this collage.
The whole production took 10 months. Within these 10 months the concept, the financing, 42 minutes of animations, the editing as well as the sound design, the music and the compositing came off.
The time pressure was immense and could only be put up with, because everybody plunged into the project and worked day and night.
And at the same time one thing was clear for the team of Iranian descent: because of their participation in this project they will never be able to visit Iran again. But as has Saadi so nicely said,
“Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul,
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you’ve no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain!”
Dr. SHIRIN EBADI – since many years the Noble Peace Prize winner and Iranian lawyer is fighting for more human rights and for freedom in Iran. She is the founder of the Centre for the Defense of Human Rights in Iran. On October 10th, 2003 she was awarded the most important peace prize for her ceaseless and pioneering efforts for democracy and human rights – especially women’s, children’s and refugee rights – being the first Iranian, and the first Muslim woman to have received this prize.
PROFESSOR DR. PAYAM AKHAVAN – the former war crimes prosecutor is a professor of international law at McGill University in Montr�al. He teaches and researches in the areas of public international law and international criminal law with a particular interest in human rights and multiculturalism, UN reforms and the prevention of genocide. Akhavan has published numerous articles and books. His article Beyond Impunity about the chances and barriers in international criminal prosecution, published in 2001 in American Journal of International Law, is considered to be one of the most significant published journal essays in contemporary legal studies. Professor Akhavan was the first Legal Advisor to the Prosecutor’s Office of the International Criminal Tribunals for former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda and played a key role in the trial of Slobodan Milo�ević. He also served with the UN in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, Guatemala, East Timor and Rwanda, and was appointed as legal advisor in many important cases before the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court and the European Court of Human Rights. Professor Akhavan is a prominent human rights advocate for Iranian political prisoners and cofounder of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre, an organization documenting human rights violations by Iranian leaders to prepare for legal actions.
Dr. MOHSEN KADIVAR – the Shiite cleric and philosopher, university lecturer, author and political dissident is one of the leading cleric critics of the Iranian system of Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist, established by Khomeini. Kadivar studied theology and got his PhD in Islamic law and Islamic philosophy. For a long time Kadivar has been an advocate for more democracy and also religious reforms in Iran. At the end of the 90ies, for example, he fell into disgrace after having voiced public criticism and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
MEHDI MOHSENI – in his publications the blogger and journalist has advocated for reforms in Iran. He also was election assistant to Mousavi prior to the presidential elections. In summer 2009 he came to Germany in the course of a scientific exchange and since then has been living in exile there, because it would be too dangerous for him to return.
MITRA KHALATBARI – the award-winning journalist has experienced the consequences of the controversial presidential elections firsthand. To escape the pressure and the persecution of the regime, in autumn 2009 she fled from Iran to Cologne and has been living in exile since then.
ABOUT ALI SAMADI AHADI (director & author)
Director and author Ali Samadi Ahadi was born in 1972 in the north Iranian city of Tabriz. In 1985, when he was 12 years old, he came to Germany without his family and later took his Abitur in Hannover. In Kassel he studied visual communication with the focus on film and television. At the end of the 90’s he started his career as a filmmaker. He participated in several documentaries and reports as director, film editor or cinematographer. For his documentary CULTURE CLAN he was nominated for the Rose d’Or award, and in Cape Town he won the Channel O Award in the category of “Best Foreign Music Film”. Literally a flood of awards followed soon after for his documentary LOST CHILDREN in co-production with Oliver Stoltz, which won the German Film Award 2006 as well as numerous international awards (among others the UNICEF Award, Al Jazeera Award). Recently, Ahadi made his first feature film SALAMI ALEIKUM, in 2009 reaching a top position in the Arthouse charts with this culture clash comedy.
AMY GOODMAN: It was ten years ago today when then President George W. Bush announced the beginning of the war.
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: On my orders, the United States military has begun strikes against out, terrorist training camps and military installations of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. These carefully targeted actions are designed to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations, and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime
AMY GOODMAN: Ten years later, the Afghan war rages on. It has become the longest-running war in U.S. history. There’s no end in sight. The Taliban remains in control of major parts of the nation. Peace talks have collapsed. Civilian and troop casualties continue to mount. There have been a number of major setbacks in just the past few weeks. On September 13, militants attacked the U.S. Embassy and the NATOheadquarters in Kabul. A week later, the Taliban claim responsibility for assassinating former Afghan president, Burhanuddin Rabbani, who headed the Afghan Peace Council. Just this week the Wall Street Journal reported Afghan President Hamid Karzai has given up on negotiating with the Taliban. In a recent interview, retired General Stanley McChrystal said the U.S. and NATO were only 50% of the way towards achieving their goals in Afghanistan. Brian Katulis is a senior fellow at the Center for American progress.
BRIAN KATULIS: If you look at the main metric, the measure for success, in the counterinsurgency strategy, it is, how safe is the local population? 2011, this year, will be the deadliest year for Afghan civilians. More than 80% of those deaths are caused by the Taliban insurgency. But the key metric of whether we’re succeeding on a counterinsurgency strategy — are we keeping the local population safe? — the answer is, no. The number has gone up
AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about Afghanistan, we are joined by two guests – first, we go to Afghanistan, to Reena. She’s 19 years old, a member of RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. Reena is a pseudonym, her face concealed since all RAWAmembers maintain anonymity for security reasons. Welcome toDemocracy Now!, Reena. Describe what is happening now – ten years after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan. REENA: Thank you so much, Amy. It is a pleasure to be on your show. Ten years ago when U.S. invaded Afghanistan, they made promises of democracy, women’s rights, and a general improvement in the lives of people. But ten years later, today, the situation is clearly getting worse for our people. Everyday life has not improved. Women’s situation has gotten worse. There is no sign of democracy or freedom or peace anywhere. In fact, civilian deaths have reached 10,000 on this anniversary. And it’s going to continue to rise with the surge of troops and increase in assaults, this will obviously be continuing. AMY GOODMAN: Here in the United States, we’ve just passed the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. There was a great deal of attention to the young people who grew up in the shadow of the World Trade Center, both specifically and also just in this age metaphorically. You, Reena, or 19 years old. You were nine when the U.S. attacked Afghanistan. Where were you born? What are your thoughts growing up in the Afghan War? REENA: At that time, I was in Pakistan, in a refugee camp, but I do remember a lot of people who were there at that time, like our close relatives. We lost some people that we knew, some friends, in the bombings of the U.S. So I did not exactly witness the deadlier Civil War of 92-96. I have vague images of the Taliban regime of 96-2001. But this ten year war has definitely had a very deep impact on this generation. The civilian casualties, the fear that people live with these days, the terror that there is in the streets everywhere for the IED attacks or other kinds of threats, it is increasing day by day. It has just made everyone extremely insecure and bad for the people. AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined here in New York by Anand Gopal. He reported for The Christian Science Monitor in Afghanistan then for the Wall Street Journal. Now he is writing a book on the war in Afghanistan. Your thoughts ten years later — the longest U.S. war in U.S. history. ANAND GOPAL: By any metric we look at, the war has gotten worse. Security has gotten precipitously worse every single year. 2011 has seen the most civilians being killed of any year since the war started. We’ve seen the most number of attacks – suicide bombings, roadside bombings, since the war started for any year. The amount of territory the Taliban controls has been undiminished, despite the fact we’ve seeing a major troop surge in the last year or two years. We’ve seen a fragmentation within Afghanistan where the people who we are aligned with are starting to arm themselves and thinking about a post-American scenario where they want to all fight against each other. Really we’re at a knot here in Afghanistan in the last ten years. AMY GOODMAN: Listening to the talk shows on the cable networks, it is quite remarkable to see how things are turned on their heads. The Republicans talking about Obama presiding over the longest war. The issue of what it means if the U.S. pulls out, and the mantra often repeated that the Taliban will take over. I want to get both of your thoughts on that beginning with Anand. ANAND GOPAL: The Taliban already have de facto control of almost half of the country in the countryside. Beyond that, what we’re doing in Afghanistan is we are arming militiamen, warlords, strong men, we’re actually going into the countryside and giving them weapons, giving weapons to all sorts of human rights violators and abusers. These are people in many cases who have been disarmed after 2001 and we’re rearming now because we need help in fighting the Taliban. So what that’s actually doing is creating the conditions in which the civil war is more and more likely. In fact that I think the longer we stay and continue this policy, a civil war becomes more likely. AMY GOODMAN: Reena, your thoughts on the issue of the Taliban? REENA: Yes, I absolutely agree with him. The U.S. has armed the most dangerous warlords and is continuing to arm and support them. If they were drawn out, yes, a civil war may be inevitable. But again, we have to remember that, as we always say, this war is part of the problem. It is not going to solve anything for us. If the troops withdraw and if they give Afghanistan a chance to decide its own fate, I think things will work out. If they do not support these warlords, as he said, and the U.S. and its allies pressure the other countries not to support the Taliban, then I think maybe a civil war will not take place. It might not be as bloody as it will be if they continue supporting or if this war goes on. AMY GOODMAN: Reena, a reason often given for staying in Afghanistan — it was one that Laura Bush put forward, it was one that was picked up again, things all turned around, the kind of feminist reason, particularly put forward by the Republicans but many Democrats also support this and Democratic women — that it is about saving the women of Afghanistan. Your response? REENA: Yes, these claims were all extremely false. If they have brought to power the misogynists, the brothers and creed of Taliban into power, who are the exact copies of Taliban, mentally and have just been physically changed, then I do not think the feminist situation can improve. Today, there are slight improvements in women’s lives in urban areas, but again if you look at statistics, Afghanistan remains the most dangerous place for women. Self-immolation, suicide rates, are extremely high – it has never been this high before. Domestic violence is widespread. Women are poor. They do not have healthcare. It has the highest mortality rate in the world. There are, as I said, some improvements. And in some aspects, it might have been a little better for a handful of people, for women, but it has definitely has gotten worse for others. There is insecurity, there are threats. They always say that there are six million girls in schools and the schools have opened, but nobody looks at the dropout rates. Nobody looks at the attacks, the threats that the Taliban makes to the girls. And they do not dare go out again. Nobody looks at the quality of the schools. All these things — there have been slight changes. It has been very widely used, and to just highlight a few positive things, but overall, things have gotten worse. AMY GOODMAN: I want to play a clip from Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaking earlier this week about the Haqqani network threat, blaming the ISI for orchestrating attacks on U.S. targets inside Afghanistan.
ADM. MIKE MULLEN: A second but no less worrisome challenge is the impunity with which certain extremist groups are allowed to operate from Pakistani soil. The Haqqani network, for one, acts as a veritable army of Pakistan’s internal services intelligence agency. With ISI support, Haqqani operatives planned and conducted that truck bomb attack as well as the assault on our embassy.
AMY GOODMAN: Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen. Anand Gopal, your response? ANAND GOPAL: It’s absolutely the case that Pakistan is in some way supporting the Haqqani network and the rest of the Afghan insurgency. But I think it is important to have some historical context in all of this. We once, the U.S., once supported the Haqqani network, back in the ‘80s when we were fighting against the Russians. We poured millions, in fact billions of dollars into Afghanistan to fundamentalists, to Islamic radicals and we’re getting the blowback of that now. And also that has fundamentally changed the dynamic within Pakistan, where we helped create, in a sense, the way that the ISI, the Pakistani Security Agency, acts today. They have been pretty much consistent in the last thirty years in their position. We just changed our position ten years ago. AMY GOODMAN: And the role that Pakistan — if you could talk further – plays in Afghanistan, and the fact that Pakistan has been supporting or in the past supported the very forces that they’re fighting against, that the U.S. is fighting against in Afghanistan, and helped to establish the ISI, which it now is critiquing. ANAND GOPAL: Well, there is no doubt that the insurgent leadership, the Haqqani network, the Taliban and other groups, they have a safe haven in Pakistan. There is no doubt that elements of the ISI, the security apparatus, is giving advice and support to the insurgent leadership. Pakistan is planning a double game. On the one hand, they are aligned with the U.S. and getting millions of dollars in aid for military, on the other hand, supporting insurgency. AMY GOODMAN: Reena, you are 19 years old, you are a young woman who goes back and forth between Pakistan and Afghanistan. How do you function? Reena is not really your name, you’re not saying where you are in Afghanistan, you’re with the organization RAWA. Explain what your group does and how you get around. REENA: RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, was established in 1977 by a martyred leader, Mina, and a group of other young women. It is an anti-fundamentalist group, women’s group, that fights for freedom, democracy, secularism and women’s rights. Because we are the only women’s group that speaks against fundamentalists — the warlords in power today — we have any security issues and we cannot be open in our activities. So we are underground and semi-underground. We function mostly in Afghanistan, but a small part of our activities are also based in Pakistan. AMY GOODMAN: Malalai Joya make a statement this week where she said, let’s see if I can find it, “we’re at a point today when Afghanistan is at its most violent since war started and the government at its weakest. Civilian casualties higher this year than any previous year, the territory Taliban controls more or less the same as last year, there’s no progress toward making a political solution.” Anand Gopal, what if the U.S. pulled out tomorrow? ANAND GOPAL: I think if the U.S. pulled out tomorrow, it would be very likely that we would see a civil war. When you talk to Afghans, and particularly in the countryside where the war is being fought, what many of them say is, we want the U.S. troops to pull out and we want there to be some sort of peace settlement from all the sides. This never really happened, even from day one in 2001. The Afghan state was not constituted on a broad-based system. It was a deal between a certain set of warlords and the U.S. You want to include civil society, groups like RAWA, other groups, and try to come together to tell Afghans to configure their state in some way, which they’ve never had a chance to do until now. So I think a peace settlement of some sort, together with the troops pulling out, would be the only way we can forestall a Civil War. AMY GOODMAN: Would you say, Reena, that each day of this war increases hostility toward the United States? REENA: Absolutely. Absolutely, it does, as it has increased from 2001 until now. Because in the start, the people were very hopeful. They had some hope that the U.S. would actually help them, that their situation would improve in the last ten years. But the U.S., unfortunately, supported the war lords, like Sayaff, Abdullah Abdullah, Ismail Khan, Khalili, and they recently killed Burhanuddin Rabbani. So all this has increased the People’s hostility, in addition in the countryside and in provinces other than Kabul and some other urban cities, the U.S. airstrikes and night raids are increasing day-by-day. This itself is drawing a lot of hostility from the people toward the U.S., and they want them to leave our country as soon as possible. AMY GOODMAN: Final comments, Anand Gopal, for people to understand and as you both lived in Afghanistan for years covering the war and you come back to the United States and see how generally it is covered as you write your book? ANAND GOPAL: It is covered very poorly. I think a lot of the discourse about the war in Afghanistan is that it is a series of mistakes. And it is a mistake. But I think at the core underneath those mistakes is a fundamental wrong policy, which was the war on terror, going into Afghanistan and thinking that the occupation of a country can solve the problem of terrorism. I think that everything that we are seeing in Afghanistan today, you can relate it back to that fundamental core issue. AMY GOODMAN: Reena, I don’t know if you heard the Nobel peace Prize was just announced. It is going to three women from the Arab world and from Africa. Two from Liberia, including the current president of Liberia, and one brave Yemeni activist, the youngest ever to receive the Nobel peace prize. Had you heard about that? Does this matter at all to in Afghanistan? REENA: Yes, I did read about this. I would like to say that the Nobel Peace Prize is, I do not think, it is a very big prize in the opinion of our people. Because every time there is usually a political motive behind giving it to somebody. And the actual real people who struggle for something or who are trying to get something are never considered for this prize. For example, last year, a warlord woman from our country, Sima Samar, was on the list of these people. She almost won the Nobel Peace Prize. That woman is in the Warlord Party. If not directly, is an agent of other countries. If you can consider giving this prize to such a woman, then it does not mean anything for our people. Anybody else can win it for political reasons or whatever is behind it. AMY GOODMAN: Your thoughts in that, Anand Gopal? ANAND GOPAL: I think also more importantly, from the point of view of the Afghans, Barack Obama is a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and he’s the person who increased the number of troops in Afghanistan and increased the violence in fact in Afghanistan. A lot of my Afghan friends question with the value of the Nobel Peace Prize is if it leads to more war in Afghanistan. AMY GOODMAN: Thank you both for being with us on the 10th anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan, now the U.S. engaged in the longest war it has ever been involved with in U.S. history. Anand Gopal, independent journalist, writing a book Afghanistan, previously with the Christian Science Monitor and then the Wall Street Journal. AMY GOODMAN: And Reena, not her real name, speaking to us from Afghanistan, her face covered. She is anonymous for her own protection. Tonight, _KPFK_’s Uprising host, Sonali Kolhatkar. KPFK is the Pacifica Station in Los Angeles—-will be leading a conversation with Reena via live video stream and taking questions from the viewing audience. You can see it at afghanwomensmission.org, we’ll put a link there on our website at democracynow.org.
(For full report visit UNAMA page.)
From October 2010 to August 2011, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) interviewed 379 pre-trial detainees and convicted prisoners at 47 detention facilities in 22 provinces across Afghanistan. In total, 324 of the 379 persons interviewed were detained by National Directorate of Security (NDS) or Afghan National Police (ANP) forces for national security crimes – suspected of being Taliban fighters, suicide attack facilitators, producers of improvised explosive devices, and others implicated in crimes associated with the armed conflict in Afghanistan.
Interviews were conducted at facilities including ANP detention centres, NDS facilities, Ministry of Justice prisons and juvenile rehabilitation centres; as a result of transfers, the interviews dealt with detainees located in 24 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. With two exceptions, Government officials from the ANP, NDS, Ministry of Justice and other departments cooperated with UNAMA and provided full access to detainees and facilities.
NDS and ANP are the main Afghan security forces engaged in detaining and arresting conflict-related detainees with NDS responsible for investigation of national security crimes and interrogation of such detainees. NDS is the State’s principal internal and external intelligence-gathering organ, conducting security and law enforcement operations to gather actionable intelligence to prevent crimes against public security. As the country’s police force, ANP deals with both criminal and conflict-related offences. International military forces also play a significant role in detention of individuals for conflict-related offences.
UNAMA’s research focused on detention practices of the NDS with a secondary focus on detention by ANP. UNAMA’s interviews concentrated on the treatment of detainees by NDS and ANP officials and the Government of Afghanistan’s compliance with due process guarantees under Afghan and international human rights law. UNAMA made no assumptions or findings on the guilt or innocence of those detainees it interviewed for crimes of which they were suspected, accused or convicted.
UNAMA acknowledges the critical and extremely difficult role that NDS and ANP have in safeguarding national security in the current situation of armed conflict in Afghanistan.
Torture and Abuse of Detainees by NDS and ANP
UNAMA’s detention observation found compelling evidence that 125 detainees (46 percent) of the 273 detainees interviewed who had been in NDS detention experienced interrogation techniques at the hands of NDS officials that constituted torture, and that torture is practiced systematically in a number of NDS detention facilities throughout Afghanistan. Nearly all detainees tortured by NDS officials reported the abuse took place during interrogations and was aimed at obtaining a confession or information. In almost every case, NDS officials stopped the use of torture once detainees confessed to the crime of which they were accused or provided the requested information. UNAMA also found that children under the age of 18 years experienced torture by NDS officials.
More than one third of the 117 conflict-related detainees UNAMA interviewed who had been in ANP detention experienced treatment that amounted to torture or to other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
In situations where torture occurred, it typically took the form of abusive interrogation practices used to obtain confessions from individuals detained on suspicion of crimes against the State. The practices documented meet the international definition of torture. Torture occurs when State officials, acting in their official capacity inflict or order, consent or acquiesce to the infliction of severe physical or mental pain or suffering against an individual to obtain a confession or information, or to punish or discriminate against the individual. Such practices amounting to torture are among the most serious human rights violations under international law, are crimes under Afghan law and are strictly prohibited under both Afghan and international law.
Detainees described experiencing torture in the form of suspension (being hung by the wrists from chains or other devices attached to the wall, ceiling, iron bars or other fixtures for lengthy periods) and beatings, especially with rubber hoses, electric cables or wires or wooden sticks and most frequently on the soles of the feet. Electric shock, twisting and wrenching of detainees’ genitals, stress positions including forced standing, removal of toenails and threatened sexual abuse were among other forms of torture that detainees reported. Routine blindfolding and hooding and denial of access to medical care in some facilities were also reported. UNAMA documented one death in ANP and NDS custody from torture in Kandahar in April 2011.
UNAMA found compelling evidence that NDS officials at five facilities systematically tortured detainees for the purpose of obtaining confessions and information. These are the provincial NDS facilities in Herat, Kandahar, Khost and Laghman, and the national facility of the NDS Counter-Terrorism Department 124 (formerly Department 90) in Kabul. UNAMA received multiple, credible allegations of torture at two other provincial NDS facilities in Kapisa and Takhar. UNAMA did not find indications of torture at two provincial NDS facilities, Paktya and Uruzgan, at the time of its visits to these facilities.
UNAMA received numerous allegations regarding the use of torture at 15 other locations covering 17 NDS facilities. Twenty-five percent of detainees interviewed in these 17 facilities alleged they had been tortured. At the time of writing of this report, UNAMA had not established the credibility of the allegations based on the number of interviews conducted and the need to corroborate allegations satisfactorily. UNAMA continues to investigate these allegations.
Detainees in ANP custody reported that abuse occurred in a broader range of circumstances and settings. Some of this abuse constituted torture while other methods amounted to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Reports of abuse by the ANP included police officers committing torture or ill-treatment at the time of arrest, at check posts, at district headquarters, and at provincial headquarters.
The Government of Afghanistan is obliged under Afghan law and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment to investigate promptly all acts of torture and other ill-treatment, prosecute those responsible, provide redress to victims and prevent further acts of torture. The Government’s obligation to respect the prohibition against torture is also non-derogable meaning that no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, can be invoked as a justification of torture. UNAMA calls on the Afghan authorities to take all possible steps to end and prevent torture, and provide accountability for all acts of torture.
Transfer of Detainees to NDS and ANP by International Military Forces
UNAMA’s detention observation included interviews with 89 detainees who reported the involvement of international military forces either alone or together with Afghan forces in their capture and transfer to NDS or ANP custody. UNAMA found compelling evidence that 19 of these 89 detainees were tortured in NDS custody and three in ANP custody.
Under the Convention against Torture States are prohibited from transferring individuals to another State’s custody where a substantial risk of torture exists. Rules of the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) also state that consistent with international law, persons should not be transferred under any circumstances where there is a risk they will be subjected to torture or other forms of ill-treatment.
The situation described in this report of transfer to a risk of torture speaks to the need for robust oversight and monitoring of all transfers of detainees to NDS and ANP custody by international military forces in Afghanistan, and suspension of transfers to facilities where credible reports of torture exist.
Canada and the United Kingdom ceased transfers of detainees to NDS facilities in Kandahar and Kabul at various times in recent years based on reports of torture and ill-treatment. These countries implemented post-transfer monitoring schemes allowing them to track the treatment of detainees their armed forces handed over to Afghan authorities. The United States Embassy recently finalised plans for a post-transfer detainee monitoring programme and a proposal is with the Government of Afghanistan for its consideration.
The Embassy advised UNAMA that it regards the programme as a positive way for the US to continue its work with the Government to ensure its detention system is safe, secure and humane.
In early July 2011, US and ISAF military forces stopped transferring detainees to NDS and ANP authorities in Dai Kundi, Kandahar, Uruzgan and Zabul based on reports of a consistent practice of torture and mistreatment of detainees in NDS and ANP detention facilities in those areas. In early September 2011, in response to the findings in this report, ISAF stated that it stopped transferring detainees to certain NDS and ANP installations as a precautionary measure.
Torture and ill-treatment by NDS and ANP could also trigger application of the “Leahy Law” which prohibits the US from providing funding, weapons or training to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible evidence that such unit has committed gross human rights violations, unless the Secretary of State determines that the concerned government is taking effective remedial measures. In the situation of Afghanistan this would presumably require the US to resume transfer of detainees only when the Government of Afghanistan implements appropriate remedial measures that include bringing to justice NDS and ANP officials responsible for torture and ill-treatment.
Lack of Accountability of NDS and ANP officials for Torture and Abuse of Detainees
UNAMA found that accountability of NDS and ANP officials for torture and abuse is weak, not transparent and rarely enforced. Limited independent, judicial or external oversight exists of NDS and ANP as institutions and of crimes or misconduct committed by NDS and ANP officials including torture and abuse.
Most cases of crimes or abusive or unprofessional conduct by NDS officials are addressed internally. Senior NDS officials advised UNAMA that NDS investigated only two claims of torture in recent years, neither of which led to charges being pursued against the accused.
In December 2010, NDS established an internal oversight commission to examine allegations of mistreatment of detainees, due process issues and detention conditions. Following monitoring visits to several NDS facilities in January 2011, the commission was to report to the Director General of NDS. UNAMA observed the commission’s visits to several detention facilities and had concerns regarding the scope and quality of its investigations. Although a positive measure initially, the oversight body appears to have been ineffective to date in addressing torture, abuse and arbitrary detention as this report’s findings suggest.
Internal and external accountability mechanisms exist for ANP criminal conduct with most cases addressed internally through the Ministry of Interior. Alleged crimes committed by ANP officials should be referred to the Directorate of Military Affairs in the Attorney General’s Office for investigation and criminal trial by a military prosecutor. However, little information from the Ministry of Interior is available regarding any referral of such cases to the judicial system. Although private citizens can report crimes or misconduct committed by police officers through an office of the Ministry of Interior which assesses claims for investigation by one of three Ministry of Interior structures, few cases are pursued through this mechanism.
Due Process Violations and Arbitrary Detention
In almost all criminal cases in Afghanistan, including national security prosecutions, the case against the defendant is based on a confession, which the court usually finds both persuasive and conclusive of the defendant’s guilt. In most cases confessions are the sole form of evidence or corroboration submitted to courts to support prosecutions. Confessions are rarely examined at trial and rarely challenged by the judge or defence counsel as having been coerced.
Under Afghan law, where a confession is obtained illegally or forced, for example, under torture, it should be inadmissible in court. However, even in cases where defence lawyers raise the issue of forced confession through torture, courts usually dismiss the application and allow the confession to be used as evidence. This evidentiary practice clearly violates the letter and spirit of the law and is inconsistent with many expert studies that show information gained by torture is manifestly unreliable and non-probative of an individual’s guilt or innocence.
UNAMA documented other due process concerns and violations by NDS and ANP officials. These include the routine failure to meet procedural time limits demarcating the phases of the pre-trial criminal investigation and chain of custody, lack of clarity in the roles of arresting authorities and prosecutors, and lack of judicial oversight of pre-trial detention until very late in the pre-trial process. Since most conflict-related detainees do not have access to defence counsel or information about their rights, the absence of these procedural safeguards has a huge negative impact on detainees’ ability to challenge the legality of their detention, prepare a credible defence, or seek protection from torture or coercion.
Under Afghanistan’s Interim Criminal Procedure Code, custody is linked with the phase of a criminal case. Police may detain an individual for up to 72 hours after an arrest, while they conduct initial interviews, prepare charges and hand the case over to a primary prosecutor (Saranwal-e-btadaiah) who confirms the charges and basis for detention. Prosecutors then have a maximum period of 30 days from the time of arrest to investigate and file an indictment. During this process, suspects are to be transferred to a detention centre administered by the Central Prison Directorate – currently within the Ministry of Justice.
Separation of detention authority is aimed at ensuring suspects do not remain in the custody of those responsible for their interrogation for long periods, effectively serving as a safeguard against coercion and abuse. This safeguard is all the more important since the Interim Criminal Procedure Code does not provide for judicial review of the legality of detention in the early investigative stages after arrest. Rather the prosecutor effectively retains the ability to detain or release from the time in which charges are brought until the beginning of trial with minimal judicial oversight.
In practice, ANP and NDS officials routinely disregard these time limits and safeguards. UNAMA found that 93 percent of all NDS detainees interviewed were held for periods longer than the 72 hour maximum — an average of 20 days — before being charged with a crime and transferred to a Ministry of Justice detention centre. Many ANP and NDS officials attributed their inability to meet time limits to inadequate human resources, lack of logistical and technical capacity, and difficulties in travel to and from remote locations with poor infrastructure and insecurity to detention facilities.
UNAMA found that many prosecutors in national security cases delegate their investigative authority to the NDS and interview the detainee only after NDS completes its initial investigation and transfers the detainee to a Ministry of Justice prison which can take several months. In some cases, prosecutors draft the indictment solely on the basis of information gathered by NDS. This system of delegating the prosecutor’s authority along with the lack of speedy judicial review of the legality of detention means that most detainees do not see a judge or a prosecutor until they reach trial – a period of time that can extend up to three months from the time of arrest. This situation violates Afghanistan’s obligation under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to ensure all Afghans arrested or detained are brought promptly before a judge or other appropriate judicial official, and is inconsistent with provisions in the Constitution of Afghanistan that prohibit arbitrary detention.
Another weakness in procedural safeguards for detainees in NDS custody is the lack of access to counsel. Despite the right of all detainees under Afghan law to a defence lawyer at all stages of the process, only one of the 324 detainees UNAMA interviewed in ANP or NDS detention reported they had defence counsel. Almost all defence lawyers and legal aid providers informed UNAMA they had minimal access to NDS facilities as NDS officials deliberately prevented them from accessing detainees. NDS officials told UNAMA they deny detainees’ access to defence lawyers for fear they will influence detainees and hinder NDS investigations. Defence counsel reported they generally had better access to detainees held in ANP facilities but only after ANP investigating officials presented the case to the prosecutor.
Although detainees have the right under Afghan law to family visits, only 28 percent of detainees interviewed were permitted family visits during their detention in NDS facilities.
Torture and Arbitrary Detention Undermine Reconciliation and Reintegration
Torture, ill-treatment and arbitrary detention by the NDS and ANP are not only serious violations of human rights and crimes they also pose obstacles to reconciliation and reintegration processes aimed at ending the armed conflict in Afghanistan. UNAMA’s research along with the findings of other experts who have analysed the emergence and growth of the insurgency post-2001, highlights that such abuses in many cases contributed to individual victims joining or rejoining the Taliban and other anti-Government armed groups.
The findings in this report bring into focus a tension between programmes the Government of Afghanistan launched to promote reintegration and reconciliation with insurgents and abusive practices, particularly against conflict-related detainees, by ANP and NDS officials. The Government’s Peace and Reintegration Programme established incentives for insurgents to resolve grievances, reconcile with and reintegrate into their communities. At the same time, ANP and NDS abuses continue to provide individuals with an incentive to put their security in the hands of anti-Government elements and to fight actively against the Government.
The need to reduce the number of persons arbitrarily detained has been also recognised as a key confidence-building measure in efforts to promote reconciliation nationally among local communities and with anti-Government elements. The Government established several prisoner-release programmes to address the lack of confidence and mistrust in Government among local communities caused by high numbers of individuals detained arbitrarily and mistreated in detention. The High Peace Council recently began reviewing cases of conflict-related detainees held without evidence or access to courts as a means of confidence-building. Such efforts are undermined when the ANP, NDS, and the criminal justice system as a whole continue to tolerate torture and prolonged, arbitrary and abusive detention.
Torture and Abuse by State Officials Compromises National Security
It has long been the position of the United Nations that effective counter-terrorism measures require compliance with human rights and that torture and other abusive practices by State officials such as those documented in this report undermine national security. The UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy and Plan of Action affirm that human rights for all and the rule of law are essential components of counter-terrorism, recognising that effective counter-terrorism measures and protection of human rights are not conflicting goals, but complementary and mutually reinforcing. The UN Special Rapporteur on Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism notes there is broad consensus that combating terrorism in compliance with human rights is not only a legal and moral obligation of States but also the most effective way to fight against terrorism.
Torture and arbitrary detention are two of the most pressing human rights issues impeding the establishment of rule of law, transition of lead security responsibilities from international military forces to Afghan National Security Forces and arguably long-term reconciliation in Afghanistan. Persistent ill-treatment of detainees and the inability of judicial authorities to respect basic due process guarantees have long been factors fostering public mistrust in the Government, dissatisfaction with Afghan security forces and the growth and viability of the insurgency. Individuals detained by the NDS or ANP suffer torture without recourse or accountability, the ability to seek redress, to challenge the basis of their detention or, ultimately, to refute the persuasive power of a coerced confession gained through torture.
Afghanistan’s Constitution, laws and international legal obligations provide an effective legal framework for prohibiting torture and ill-treatment. While some critical safeguards are not yet in place, particularly the right to challenge the basis of detention, effective implementation of existing laws could ensure the worst abuses are stopped and hold accountable perpetrators of torture and ill-treatment.
UNAMA’s detention observation shows that NDS officials are responsible for the serious human rights violations and crimes documented in specific NDS facilities. UNAMA’s findings to date are that NDS officials systematically tortured detainees in a number of detention facilities across Afghanistan. Torture does not appear to have been practiced systematically in each NDS facility UNAMA observed. In other facilities UNAMA observed, more investigation is required to determine whether torture is used systematically in the facility. UNAMA concludes on the basis of the findings of this observation programme that the use of torture is not a de facto institutional policy directed or ordered by the highest levels of NDS leadership or the Government. This together with the fact that NDS cooperated with UNAMA’s detention observation programme suggests that reform is both possible and desired by elements within the NDS. In response to the findings of this report, the leadership of NDS advised UNAMA that it plans to investigate reports of torture and address concerns through a time-limited action plan.
The comments and response of the Government of Afghanistan, the NDS and the Ministry of Interior to the findings in this report are attached as Annex II.
Use and acceptance of abusive interrogation tactics amounting to torture also reflects the need for much greater attention to reforms in the judiciary, prosecution and law enforcement sectors. Police, prosecutors and NDS intelligence officials and interrogators should be trained in national and international legal frameworks prohibiting torture and in interrogation techniques that have proved to be more reliable in gaining the long term trust and cooperation of detainees and suspected perpetrators of terrorism that strengthen national security. These techniques also provide reliable intelligence, information and testimonial evidence on which courts can base decisions and on which police, prosecutors and courts can minimise arbitrary detention and increase respect for due process guarantees the Government is obliged to provide to all detainees.
UNAMA offers the following recommendations to the Government of Afghanistan and its international partners to address and end the practice of torture and ill-treatment, and arbitrary detention in all NDS and ANP facilities.
To the National Directorate of Security (NDS)
– Take immediate steps to stop and prevent torture and ill-treatment at all NDS facilities and particularly at facilities where such practices have been used as a method of interrogation:
– Investigate all reports of torture and ill-treatment at provincial NDS facilities in Herat, Kandahar, Khost, Laghman and NDS Counter-Terrorism Department 90/124 in Kabul. Remove, prosecute, discipline and punish those officials found responsible. Permit independent oversight of these investigations and publicly report on findings and remedial actions;
– Promptly issue directives prohibiting torture and ill-treatment in all circumstances to all NDS personnel and advise them and their superiors they will be prosecuted and disciplined if found committing, ordering or condoning such practices;
– Permit full, regular and unhindered access of independent monitors to all NDS facilities including the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, UNAMA, International Committee of the Red Cross and others.
– Review the working methods of the NDS oversight/detention monitoring commission, identify why it has not uncovered torture at the facilities visited, and adopt methods that ensure future monitoring missions are effective.
– Implement an external accountability mechanism that allows independent and transparent investigations into alleged abuses within NDS facilities.
– Ensure all NDS interrogators and their superiors receive mandatory training in lawful and effective interrogation methods, alternative investigative approaches (such as forensics), and legal obligations under Afghan and international law that prohibit torture and ill-treatment, in coordination with international partners.
– Change policies and practices on access of defence lawyers to detainees. Permit defence lawyers to visit all detention facilities and offer their services to any detainee at all stages of the process as required by Afghan law.
To the Afghan National Police
– Take immediate steps to stop and prevent torture and ill-treatment:
– Investigate all reports of torture and ill-treatment at police facilities and remove, prosecute, discipline and punish all police officers and their superiors found responsible for committing or condoning such practices;
– Permit independent oversight of these investigations and publicly report on findings and remedial actions.
– Permit full, regular and unhindered access of independent monitors to all Afghan National Police and Ministry of Interior facilities including the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, UNAMA, International Committee of the Red Cross and others.
– Issue and implement regulations instructing police that a limited number of designated officials with the Criminal Investigation Division, Counter-Terrorism Unit, and similar units conduct interrogations. Issue and train these officials on a standard operating procedure on lawful and effective interrogation and legal obligations on the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment.
To the Government of Afghanistan
• Make the legal framework and procedures regulating NDS public and transparent, and ensure legal procedures provide for the external investigation and prosecution of allegations of serious criminal conduct, including torture and ill-treatment of detainees by NDS officials, in the civilian criminal justice system.
To the Supreme Court
• Direct primary and appeal court judges to routinely investigate all allegations of torture and coerced confessions and strictly enforce prohibitions on the use of evidence obtained through torture as required under the Constitution of Afghanistan and the Interim Criminal Procedure Code.
To the Supreme Court, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Interior and Parliament
• Revise the Interim Criminal Procedure Code to guarantee the right of detainees to be brought promptly before a judge for an initial and periodic review of the lawfulness of pre-trial detention, and the right of detainees to challenge the legality of their detention with a speedy court decision.
To Troop Contributing Countries and Concerned States
• Suspend transfer of detainees to those NDS and ANP units and facilities where credible allegations or reports of torture and ill-treatment have been made pending a full assessment. Review monitoring practices at each NDS facility where detainees are transferred and revise as necessary to ensure no detainees are transferred to a risk of torture.
• Review policies on transferring detainees to ANP and NDS custody to ensure adequate safeguards and use participation in joint operations, funding arrangements, the transition process, intelligence liaison relationships and other means to stop the use of torture and promote reforms by NDS and ANP.
• Build the capacity of NDS and ANP facilities and personnel including through mentoring and training on the legal and human rights of detainees and detention practices in line with international human rights standards.
• Increase efforts to support training to all NDS and ANP interrogators and their supervisors in lawful and effective interrogation methods, and alternative investigative approaches (such as forensics).
Saba Mahmood is an anthropologist who teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, and whose work raises challenging questions about the relationship between religion and secularism, ethics and politics, agency and freedom. Her book Politics of Piety, a study of a grassroots women’s piety movement in Cairo, questions the analytical and political claims of feminism as well as the secular liberal assumptions on the basis of which such movements are often judged. In the volume Is Critique Secular?she joins Talal Asad, Judith Butler, and Wendy Brown in rethinking the Danish cartoon controversy as a conflict between blasphemy and free speech, between secular and religious world views. Now, Mahmood is working on a comparative project about the right to religious liberty and minority-majority relations in the Middle East. We spoke over breakfast in New York City.
NS: I know you have been following the events in Egypt and have even been back a couple of times since the overthrow of the Mubarak regime. How would you describe the situation?
SM: I think this is an incredibly interesting time in Egypt. The country is involved in a historic and heady process of political transformation. The stakes are very high, and it is unclear whether the kind of changes—political, social, and economic—that the January 25 Revolution envisioned will, in fact, be possible. Like any other revolution in modern history, this one faces immense challenges from both within and without.
NS: What exactly are those challenges, in your view?
SM: Well, after the overthrow of the Mubarak regime, as one would expect, the movement became divided over what the collective future of the country should be. Old differences that had been set aside to topple the Mubarak regime have come to the fore again—differences of class, ideology, and religion, all of which affect the vision of what a just society should be. Second, there is the issue of transforming the political system from within to create a democratic structure—which entails, not only promulgating new electoral laws and procedures, but also forging laws that address the demands of a democratic society. Then there is the challenge of how to dismantle the much-despised state security apparatus, with its bloated and corrupt bureaucracy of surveillance and vengeance, and the Emergency Law—in place for over twenty years—that has facilitated its operations. In recent months, protestors have taken to the streets again to demand an end to the military trials that have continued since the overthrow of Mubarak. (Some report that more than 10,000 people have been tried in military courts since the revolution.) These military trials are a symbol of the old system that is still intact, and which the protestors of the January 25 Revolution had sought to dismantle. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there are economic issues that are systemic, and that are not simply Egypt’s but belong to the international system of finance and capital. Egypt, like any other Third World country, is hostage right now to the global economic crisis and the immense pressure put upon those countries by international institutions (like the World Bank and IMF) and geopolitical powers (the US and Western Europe) to resist the demand for socially progressive economic reforms. The Egyptian military is part of this system and has benefitted from it immensely. I cannot see how the military, as the primary institution in charge of this “transition,” is going to set aside its economic interests to yield to the popular demand for economic justice. This is in part why Egyptians from various walks of life continue to stage sit-ins and protests across the country.
NS: How do you think these challenges might be overcome?
SM: Well, I have faith in the Egyptian people and their thirst and desire to transform the status quo. None of us expected or predicted what the Egyptians were able to achieve on February 11, 2011, with their determination and political will. The unimaginable became imaginable. The same powers are in play right now, and I suspect we all will have a lot to learn from the developments that unfold in Egypt in the coming years.
NS: Without a doubt. But let’s back up a bit now. I first read your essay on “Rehearsed Spontaneity and the Conventionality of Ritual” when I was a freshman in college, and it had a big influence on how I came to think about the practice of religion. I still look back to it. In that vein, I wonder if you, too, had an experience early on that reoriented your own thinking.
SM: One thing that had a decisive impact on me was Talal Asad’s “The Idea of an Anthropology of Islam.” I was a graduate student at Stanford at the time, and I was working on issues of religion at a moment when there was little interest in the subject within the discipline of anthropology. This was pre-9/11, and people didn’t think that religion was of great importance. I was reading a lot on my own, and this essay came up in footnotes. Our library didn’t even have a copy of it, so I had to request it through interlibrary loan. I sat down, and I distinctly remember reading and then rereading it several times. I was really challenged by the questions that the article forced the reader to ask, not just of Islam but of religion in general. It’s a very well-circulated paper now, and most students of religion and Islam tend to read it, but at the time, it was a buried treasure.
NS: Tell me about what brought you to anthropology in the first place. You were an architect before that?
SM: Yes, I practiced architecture for four years. At the time I was also involved in activism against U.S. foreign policy in Central America and the Middle East. When the first Gulf War broke out, I realized that there were many pressing questions, which the war had brought to the fore, that I hadn’t really resolved for myself. These were questions that had to do with the transformed political and social landscape of the Muslim world, the ascendance of Islamic politics and the challenge this posed to those of us who grew up believing in the promise of secular nationalism to forge a different future. Following the Iranian Revolution, in 1979, Islamic movements had become the primary expression of political dissent in a variety of Muslim countries. In order to think about the transformations this ascendance had caused in the social and political landscape of Muslim societies, I resolved that I would go back to graduate school. At the time, I did not really know much about anthropology; so I enrolled in a political science graduate program, which I found to be very Eurocentric. I realized that this discipline would not help me explore the kinds of questions that I was interested in. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to anthropology at the time, and it has been my disciplinary home since.
NS: Have you found anthropology to be a discipline in which questions that concerned you as an activist can be addressed?
SM: My activism would probably have been accommodated in any discipline. But what anthropology has allowed me to do in a serious way is pursue the question of difference. The traditional aim of socio-cultural anthropology was to study the primitive other in order to reflect upon the peculiarity—and often superiority—of Western cultural and social norms. In the late 1980s, anthropologists and others launched a robust critique of the essentialized and ahistorical notion of cultural difference that had served the discipline for so long. One important result of this critique was that the discipline moved to think critically about the question of difference—not just cultural difference but how different histories, traditions, and arrangements of power force people to live and experience life in heterogeneous ways. In general I find anthropology’s commitment to thinking critically about difference unique in the human sciences and worthy of engagement and exploration. So, in answer to your question, it is not so much that anthropology is especially open to activism, but rather its insistence that we engage with difference, while being attentive to relations of power that hierarchicalize and essentialize differences, that has enabled me to work productively in the discipline.
NS: On your website, you also say that your experience in architecture influenced your work as an anthropologist. Can you say something about how?
SM: That’s probably overstated! But when I was practicing architecture, I realized I wasn’t very happy with the elitist and technological bent of the profession. I started working instead with the homeless, designing, financing, and constructing housing for people who couldn’t afford to pay rent or mortgage. The work I did was mostly in dense, urban communities, both in the U.S. and, briefly, in Pakistan. This experience left me with an appreciation for the grit of urban life, the challenges it throws up to people, and how they manage them. In a sense, this is what Politics of Piety is about, too—people trying to make sense of a world that has completely undone the possibility of a wholesome life, but in which people still try to recreate that possibility through suturing various kinds of disparate practices and habits.
NS: Why did you choose Cairo as the site of your fieldwork?
SM: At first I went to Algiers, but it was in the throes of a civil war, which made fieldwork impossible. I also went to Fes and Casablanca but found that political debate was very guarded and muffled, making it difficult to pursue the kinds of questions I was interested in. In Cairo, however, I found a place that was very vibrant and alive with debates about the importance of secularism, Islamism, and what it means to live as a Muslim in the contemporary world. The city streets pulsated with these debates, and Egyptians generally did not feel restrained in expressing their religious and political views. I found the public culture of the city very conducive to the project I wanted to pursue, and so I stayed.
NS: What brought you to the theoretical tools that would help you interpret that experience in Politics of Piety?
SM: By the time I went to do fieldwork in Cairo, I was already very critical of how the existing literature analyzed Islamist movements, largely in functionalist and reductive terms. It seemed to subscribe to a hydraulic conception of politics: you squish something down in one place and it bubbles up in another. Islamic politics, in other words, was a displacement of something more fundamental—economic frustration, lack of democracy, and so on. But I was far less prepared to think about the range of embodied religious practices I encountered and how these inform or undergird politics. It was really a challenge for me to think about people’s preoccupation with the minutiae of bodily practices and not to read them as misguided or misplaced religiosity. Like countless other scholars, I initially tended to view them as inconsequential both to politics and to the substance of religion. It was really only after doing the fieldwork, when I came back and started writing, that I began to think more deeply about these issues and my own inadequate response to what I had observed in the field. This process of reflection and writing brought me to rethink the distinction drawn between ethics and politics in liberal political theory, as well as the centrality of affect and embodied praxis to political imaginaries and projects.
NS: In the preface to Politics of Piety, you speak very eloquently about the relationship between that project and your experience of coming of age in Pakistan. Does Pakistan continue to inform the questions that you pose and the ways in which you think about them? The country has certainly come to play a different role on the world stage in recent years. . . .
SM: The developments in Pakistan have been quite tragic. The Pakistani military has mortgaged the future of the country to fight a series of proxy wars for the U.S.—wars that have methodically destroyed its infrastructure, not to mention social and political life in the country. Politics of Piety is an analysis of a different kind of Islamic movement, in Egypt, that is transformative of social and political life but not destructive of its very possibility. In Pakistan, Islamist movements have largely played a very destructive role, especially with the ascendance of jihadi movements that have made a Faustian bargain with the Pakistani military, on the one hand, and U.S. strategic interests, on the other. It’s quite different in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood—the largest Islamist political organization in the country—has eschewed militancy at least since the 1950s, and the network of da’wa groups that I analyze in my book are reformist in nature, focused largely on proselytization and social welfare activities. The career of Islamic militants in Egypt was short-lived, and they do not command the kind of power that they do in Pakistan. As a result, the social and political profile of Islamism in Egypt is radically different from its counterpart in Pakistan. In my current project, I have begun to take up the question of how geopolitics transforms the ways religious coexistence is managed, produced, and transformed. But, while geopolitics has certainly transformed Pakistani life, in my current work I’m not thinking about it particularly in the Pakistani context.
NS: Can you tell me more about the project you’re involved in now?
SM: Well, I am engaged in a couple of related projects. My personal project focuses on how Christian-Muslim relations have been historically transformed through the introduction of the concepts of minority rights and religious liberty in the Middle East, with a particular focus on Egypt. Aside from this, I am also working on a three-year collective project with three other colleagues (Elizabeth Hurd, Peter Danchin, and Winnifred Sullivan), funded by the Henry Luce Foundation. It focuses on how religious freedom is being transformed through legal and political contestations in a variety of countries in Europe, the United States, the Middle East, and South Asia. It’s called “Politics of Religious Freedom: Contested Norms and Local Practices.” Most of the scholarly work to date tends to treat religious freedom as a singular and stable principle, enshrined in international and national legal documents. Others tend to focus on how different religious traditions are either amenable or resistant to the incorporation of liberal conceptions of religious liberty. Our project is distinct in that it asks whether religious liberty can indeed be treated as a singular or stable principle aimed at achieving shared goals and objectives, given the diversity of historical and political contexts. We will track the variety of claims made in the name of religious liberty, with the aim of mapping out modular disagreements that occur in a variety of national and international political contexts. We are interested in this because we believe that, in order to reach any sort of agreement in the human rights community, it is important first to understand what is really at stake in battles over religious freedom. It is also important to ask whether religious freedom, given its manifold deployments and limitations, is the best way to achieve co-existence for the variety of actors involved.
NS: A thread that seems to connect the earlier work with what you’ve been doing more recently is the issue of freedom—from freedom as personal autonomy, in Politics of Piety, to religious freedom in international law, now. Has the one informed how you think about the other?
SM: That is an interesting question. I agree that liberty and freedom are at the center of both of my projects. The right to religious liberty is often conceived in individualist terms—whether in the First Amendment, the European Convention on Human Rights, or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet the right to religious liberty has also been imagined in collective terms as the right of a group to practice its traditions freely, without undue intervention or control. This latter conception has been very important to religious minorities in claiming a place of autonomy and freedom from majoritarian norms and state interventions. In my current work, I am trying to think through how these alternative conceptions of religious liberty stand in tension with each other and the sorts of impasses it produces.
NS: What kinds of methods are you using? Are you doing fieldwork again?
SM: Fieldwork is an important part, but the project has historical, geopolitical, and legal dimensions as well, since I’m interested in tracking how notions of religious liberty travel across time and history, and also across the divide between Western and non-Western. So, I’m looking at the UN charter, the UDHR, international laws and treaties, as well as particular legal precedents in Europe that have traveled to the Middle East and have gained particular traction there.
NS: Tell me more about what the fieldwork is like. After all, I imagine that the usual way of studying international law is primarily textual. How does fieldwork inform these kinds of questions?
SM: I’m interested in the social life of the law, especially since many court cases about the right to religious freedom in the Middle East are fought, not just in courts, but through public campaigns launched on the cultural-political terrain. People’s sense of what constitutes religious liberty is shaped by how human, civil, and minority rights organizations end up contesting and arguing over it. Part of my fieldwork in Egypt entailed working with human rights practitioners, particularly those who are using international human rights protocols in their legal strategies and public campaigns.
NS: Can you say a bit, in turn, about how Is Critique Secular? came about and the kinds of problems that framed it?
SM: It emerged out of an event organized at UC Berkeley to announce the establishment of a new teaching and research unit on critical theory. This inaugural symposium generated a lot of interesting debate and discussion—not only on the Berkeley campus but here on the Immanent Frame as well. The Townsend Center for the Humanities, where the event was held, approached me and other participants about putting some of the papers together in book form. As we could not pull together all the papers from the symposium, we focused on the ones about the Danish cartoon controversy. Wendy Brown, Talal Asad, Judith Butler, and I decided that we would try to organize the book around this question while also retaining some of the original impetus for the symposium.
NS: More recently, the cartoon controversy seems to have repeated itself all over again with the Park51 complex in Lower Manhattan, or the so-called “Ground Zero mosque.” And long before that, there was the fatwa against Salman Rushdie for The Satanic Verses.
SM: Well, I think there are substantial differences among the issues involved in each of these controversies. I think the latter is quite straightforwardly about the right of a much-maligned minority to build a place of worship near a site invested with patriotic-national fervor, while the former controversies centered upon Muslim objections to how the prophet Muhammad was portrayed.
NS: What is wrapped up for people in these portrayals of the prophet?
SM: It’s not an accident that with both the Satantic Verses and the Danish cartoon controversies, what was at stake was the particular kind of affective and religious connection pious Muslims (but certainly not all Muslims) feel to the figure of Muhammad—to his iconicity and his exemplariness. This relationhip forces us to think about religiosity in more complicated ways than as privatized belief, or as a system of rules, regulations, and taboos. Both Muslims and non-Muslims must think critically about whether the sense of injury that derives from this sort of religiosity is translatable into a language of rights, and whether understanding this sense of injury is something worthy for the ethical and political life of a religiously diverse society. I think that there is an increasing tendency within the U.S. and Europe—on the part of the majority and minorities alike—to resort to the law and the state to settle ethical and moral issues. At the time of the Danish cartoon controversy, both sides wanted to defer to the law to settle their claims. But I think that such a turn to the law, or legislation, freezes positions and allows the state to intervene in domains toward which it claims to be neutral. My contribution to Is Critique Secular? lays these issues out in more detail than I can do justice to here. In sum, what I am suggesting is that struggles over religious difference cannot simply be settled by the heavy hand of the law. Insomuch as these struggles entail competing religious sensibilities as well as deep prejudices and intolerances, they must be engaged on other—cultural, ethical, visceral—grounds. This may not yield immediate or definitive results, but it is a necessary and important step in the creation of a multi-religious polity.
NS: So how do you think this plays out in the case of Park51?
SM: There, of course, even though the personage of Muhammad was not involved, the language of injury and offense dominated the debate. If you recall, in the Danish cartoon controversy, the claim was that the right to freedom of expression is also a right to offend anybody and anyone—and that this is a characteristic of an open, pluralistic, and democratic society. Some even argued that the cartoons served as an instrument to create offense, so as to engender a critical dialogue among Muslims about Islam. In contrast, in the Park51 controversy, it was argued that the complex should not be built because, even though Muslims have a right to do so by virtue of the First Amendment, building one so close to the World Trade Center would offend American sensibilities. The claim to offense and injury in each instance was being marshaled for very different purposes.
NS: And the players’ roles have been reversed, haven’t they?
SM: Right. I do think, however, that what is at stake in all these debates is the status of a religious minority within self-avowedly liberal societies, which claim to have in place the most robust mechanisms possible for accommodating the concerns of majority and minority alike. And yet, what we find is that the rights of minorities are actually framed by the norms of the larger community; it’s against those norms that minoritarian claims are judged and contested, and that is where the idea of religious liberty and freedom of expression as an individual right remains inadequate to grasping the situation. We have to start thinking in terms of how groups are weighted both demographically and politically, and how this conditions the context in which certain claims are made or heard. It’s not enough to refer to a right that exists in constitutions—such as the right to free speech or to religious liberty—and to track when it is applied or not. Far tougher questions are at play. One has to think about how the ethical, cultural, and social norms of the majority structure the possibility of the exercise of individual and group liberties differently for minorities. I should make clear that this structural problem characterizes all nation-states (premised as they are on the demographic calculus of minority and majority populations), and is not simply particular to Euro-American societies.
NS: When you approach these issues today, are you still coming to them as an activist as well as a scholar?
SM: No, I would say that I come to them more as a scholar than as an activist. My intellectual work has often led me to challenge and complicate my political stances—to complicate the very ground on which politics can be imagined and conducted. Politics, in my opinion, demands a certain closure of thinking, in order to judge and to act. Intellectual work requires a different kind of labor. In one sense, of course, all arguments are political when you’re thinking about such controversies, but I don’t start with a political position and then see how the argument unfolds. For example, during the Danish cartoon controversy, I was puzzled by the fact that the kind of injury expressed by ordinary pious Muslims did not find any voice in the polemical debates in either the Islamic or the European press. I tried to make sense of this silence, and it led me to suggest that the kind of religiosity expressed by most Muslims in response to the Danish cartoons was incommensurable with the language of rights, litigation, and boycotts that came to dominate the debate. And it was precisely because this religiosity could not be contained within the language of identity politics that it found no expression in the public debate. Needless to say, this argument did not win me friends in either one of the two camps.
NS: Is there something in particular that you think the West needs to know about the Muslim world, or about Islam, or about Muslim minorities? Is there some message that, above all, you think needs to be definitively stated—or is the questioning enough?
SM: I don’t think questioning is enough. But I do think that there is a desperate need to challenge the current way of framing things, as a civilizational stand-off between Islam and the West. This way of thinking is not only dangerous but also unsustainable in the long run. Those of us interested in stepping out of this overheated polemic have a responsibility to make people realize why this framing is inadequate and problematic, even dangerous. Despite important differences among political ideologies and religious traditions, I believe that we have the historical language and analytical skills to think differently, to imagine a future in which Islam and the West are not locked in some zero-sum game. To take a simple example, when I speak of the kind of relationship that many pious Muslims feel toward Muhammad, which was partly at stake in the Danish cartoon controversy, surely it is recognizable to scholars of Christianity (with its long and rich tradition of the Eucharist and Corpus Christi), Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and late Antiquity? Surely we can think together about different conceptions of religiosity and what space they have in, and what effects they may have on, our political present without descending into the abyss of civilizational incomprehension and incommensurability?
NS: What about the concerns of Western feminists in particular? There sometimes seems to be especially little hope for common ground on women’s issues.
SM: Once again, feminism has a rich and varied tradition of thought and praxis. The current tilt toward painting an essentialized picture of feminism and Islam—as quintessential opposites—is inadequate to the complexity of both traditions. There are no doubt historical reasons for the great suspicion with which some Islamic symbols are treated in Euro-American societies, but I would hope that thoughtful people would be able to think through this history critically. Take the example of the current obsession with the veil in Europe: colonial discourse had long cast the veil as the essential symbol of the civilizational inferiority of the East, and of Islam in particular. It is not a surprise, therefore, that anti-colonial movements took up this symbol precisely to reverse the colonial judgment while embracing the practice—in the process, reifying the importance of the veil to Muslim identity. The current discourse is, in a sense, a re-enactment of this history. What is new, however, is the way in which the European and Turkish bans on the veil have been held up in the name of secularism, wherein secularism is equated with the principle of gender equality. For example, the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights that uphold the headscarf ban in Turkey and France rest on two interrelated claims: one, that the veil is a symbol of women’s oppression; and two, that insomuch as secularism is for gender equality France and Turkey, as secular states, cannot condone this practice. But, historically, secularism has hardly been on the side of women’s rights—otherwise French women would have been granted the vote long before 1945, and the separation of church and state would have yielded gender equality in the nineteenth century, when European states adopted this principle. Secularism and women’s rights have always had a troubled relationship, which is important to think about from within the history of feminism. This does not mean, of course, that one has to denounce secularism and embrace religion or vice versa. One has to be able to see the mutual imbrication of religion and secularism to even diagnose the problem correctly. Otherwise, I think we run the risk of dulling the critical edge of feminist thought.
NS: I found your essay about the mobilization of feminists behind the invasion of Afghanistan very powerful. I remember being so struck at that time by how American women were identifying with women in Afghanistan under the Taliban, which made some eager to support our military adventures over there. But is there a better way to ally ourselves with women in the Muslim world?
SM: The entire social fabric of Afghani society has been torn apart as a result of, first the war between the United States and the Soviet Union, between 1979 and 1989, and then the U.S. war against the Taliban and now al-Qaeda. There are civilian casualties reported almost every day—the vast majority of whom are women, children, and the elderly—as a result of U.S. bombs and drones. This violence exceeds and parallels the violence unleashed by the Taliban on the Afghanis. We read about these casualties in the media, but I do not see any mobilization by major U.S. feminist organizations to demand an end to this calamity. This silence stands in sharp contrast to the vast public campaign organized by the Feminist Majority in the late 1990s to oust the Taliban. I am often asked by American feminists what they can do to help Afghan women. My simple and short answer is: first, convince your government to stop bombing them, and second urge the US government to help create the conditions for a political—and not a military—solution to the impasse in Afghanistan. It is the condition of destitution and constant war that has driven Pakistanis and Afghans to join the Taliban (coupled with the opportunistic machinations of their own governments). Perhaps it is time to asses whether diverting the U.S. military aid toward more constructive and systemic projects of economic and political reform might yield different results.
by: Katherine Zoeff
JIDDA — Roughly two years ago, Rowdha Yousef began to notice a disturbing trend: Saudi women like herself were beginning to organize campaigns for greater personal freedoms. Suddenly, there were women asking for the right to drive, to choose whether to wear a veil, and to take a job without a male relative’s permission, all using the Internet to collect signatures and organize meetings and all becoming, she felt, more voluble by the month.
The final straw came last summer, when she read reports that a female activist in Saudi Arabia’s eastern province, Wajeha al-Huwaider, had been to the border with Bahrain, demanding to cross using only her passport, without a male chaperon or a male guardian’s written permission.
Ms. Huwaider was not allowed to leave the country unaccompanied and, like other Saudi women campaigning for new rights, has failed — so far — to change any existing laws or customs.
But Ms. Yousef is still outraged, and since August has taken on activists at their own game. With 15 other women, she started a campaign, “My Guardian Knows What’s Best for Me.” Within two months, they had collected more than 5,400 signatures on a petition “rejecting the ignorant requests of those inciting liberty” and demanding “punishments for those who call for equality between men and women, mingling between men and women in mixed environments, and other unacceptable behaviors.”
Ms. Yousef’s fight against the would-be liberalizers symbolizes a larger tussle in Saudi society over women’s rights that has suddenly made the female factor a major issue for reformers and conservatives striving to shape Saudi Arabia’s future.
Public separation of the sexes is a strongly distinctive feature of Saudi Arabia, making it perhaps a logical area for fierce debate. Since women have such a limited role in Saudi public life, however, it is somewhat surprising that it is their rights that have become a matter of open contention in a society that keeps most debate hidden.
Surprising, too, are the complexities turned up by the debate, which go far beyond what some Saudis see as the simplistic Western argument that women are simply entitled to more rights.
Take Ms. Yousef. She is a 39-year-old divorced mother of three (aged 13, 12 and 9) who volunteers as a mediator in domestic abuse cases. A tall, confident woman with a warm, effusive manner and sparkling stiletto-heeled sandals, her conversation, over Starbucks lattes, ranges from racism in the kingdom (Ms. Yousef has Somali heritage and calls herself a black Saudi) to her admiration for Hillary Rodham Clinton to the abuse she says she has suffered at the hands of Saudi liberals.
She believes firmly that most Saudis share her conservative values but insists that adherence to Shariah law and family custom need not restrict a woman seeking a say. Female campaigners in the reform camp, she says, are influenced by Westerners who do not understand the needs and beliefs of Saudi women.
“These human rights groups come, and they only listen to one side, those who are demanding liberty for women,” she said.
Every Saudi woman, regardless of age or status, must have a male relative who acts as her guardian and has responsibility for and authority over her in a host of legal and personal matters.
Ms. Yousef, whose guardian is her elder brother, said that she enjoyed a great deal of freedom while respecting the rules of her society. Guardian rules are such that she could start her campaign, for instance, without seeking her guardian’s permission.
She did not wish to speak in detail about her divorce but noted that, unusually, she had retained custody of her children through their 18th birthdays. She said she had founded her guardianship campaign unassisted, without any special connections, enlisting women in her circle of contacts as fellow founding members.
Activists like Ms. Huwaider, Ms. Yousef believes, are susceptible to foreign influences because of personal problems with men. “If she is suffering because of her guardian, she can go to a Shariah court that could remove the responsibility for her from that man and transfer it to someone who is more trustworthy.”
To an outsider, Ms. Yousef’s effort — petitioning King Abdullah to disregard calls for gender equality — might seem superfluous. After all, Saudi women still may not drive or vote and are obliged by custom to wear the floor-length cloaks known as abayas, and headscarves, outside their own homes.
Women may not appear in court, and though they may be divorced via brief verbal declarations from their husbands, they frequently find it very difficult to obtain divorce themselves. Fathers may marry off 10-year-old daughters, a practice defended by the highest religious authority, Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh.
The separation of genders in Saudi public life is difficult to overstate — there are women-only stores, women-only lines in fast food restaurants, and women-only offices in private companies. Members of the hai’a, the governmental Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, patrol to ensure that ikhtilat, or “mixing” of the sexes, does not occur.
There are a few places where men and women do work together — medical colleges, some hospitals, a handful of banks and private companies. But the percentage of Saudis in such environments is minuscule.
Jidda and Riyadh host stand-up comedy shows where young people do mix — albeit summoned with only hours’ notice via cellphone in an attempt to dodge policing. At the popular Janadriyah cultural festival in Riyadh, families were allowed to visit together for the first time last year, instead of on separate men’s and women’s days.
Where conservatives like Ms. Yousef attribute the recent volubility of rights campaigners to Western meddling, liberals say that Saudi society itself is changing, and that increasing freedoms for Saudi women appear to be cautiously supported by King Abdullah himself.
Both sides of the debate tend to claim the king’s backing. Recent history suggests that the sympathies of the 85-year-old monarch — whose feelings are never explicitly outlined in public — lie with the reformers. If so, he seems out in front of most of his youthful subjects (an estimated two-thirds of the 29 million Saudis are under 25).
The king has appeared in newspaper photographs alongside Saudi women with uncovered faces, a situation that was unimaginable until very recently. Last year, he appointed a woman to deputy minister rank, a first for Saudi Arabia. Schools and colleges remain rigidly segregated by gender, but the opening last September of a coeducational post-graduate research university, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, was hotly debated, even if only about 15 percent of the nearly 400 students at Kaust, as it is known, are Saudi.
A senior cleric was fired last October after criticizing gender mixing at Kaust on a television call-in show. Two months later, Sheikh Ahmad al-Ghamdi, the head of Mecca’s branch of the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, caused a sensation when he told The Okaz, a newspaper, that gender mixing was “part of normal life.” In February, Sheikh Abdul Rahman al-Barrak, another prominent cleric, issued a fatwa that proponents of gender mixing should be killed.
Whether it is the king’s support, or simply the ever greater availability of digital social networks, campaigning is mushrooming on both sides of the women’s rights divide, although Ms. Yousef’s is so far thought to be the only conservative effort led by a woman.
Hatoon al-Fassi, an assistant professor of women’s history at King Saud University in Riyadh, called 2009 “the year of the campaigns” for women in Saudi Arabia. Female Saudi activists embraced causes as diverse as an effort to ban child marriage and the right to set up businesses without male sponsors.
Reem Asaad lectures in the finance department at Dar al-Hekma College in Jidda. She organized a nationwide boycott of lingerie shops that employ only men, choosing lingerie because even Saudi conservatives can agree that it may be humiliating for a woman to buy underwear from a male clerk.
Her ultimate aim is to broaden women’s job opportunities. Outside her university office, where her all-female students wait for meetings with their teacher, hangs a photocopy of the country page for Saudi Arabia from the Global Gender Gap Report for 2009 by the World Economic Forum. In “economic participation and opportunity” for women, the kingdom ranks 133 out of 134 listed countries, above only Yemen. “Many Saudis would rather see a woman in poverty than have her work,” Ms. Asaad said. “This is about opening doors for women in different sectors of the economy.”
Ms. Huwaider, who so incensed Ms. Yousef with her attempts to cross into Bahrain, is a veteran campaigner, famously seen driving illegally in a YouTube clip in 2008. Now she distributes small lengths of black elastic to Saudi women, asking them to wear the ribbons until Saudi laws treat them as adults.
Soon, she said in an interview, she plans a campaign for the Saudi government to put in place a law requiring men who wish to take a second wife to obtain permission from the first wife. Morocco has such a law, which Ms. Huwaider believes could serve as a useful model.
Ms. Huwaider emphatically rejects Ms. Yousef’s characterization that she attacks the guardianship system because of personal problems. Her male guardian, she said, is her ex-husband, and they have excellent relations.
She did agree, notionally, with Ms. Yousef’s claim that many if not most Saudi men try to be fair and caring guardians. “Saudi men pride themselves on their chivalry,” Ms. Huwaider said, “but it’s the same kind of feeling they have for handicapped people or for animals. The kindness comes from pity, from lack of respect.”
Ms. Huwaider lives at what she said was considerable expense — the equivalent of $16,000 a year — in the guarded compound of the Saudi Aramco oil company. She is an employee of Aramco, working in a department that runs further education and employee development, and took the rare step, for a Saudi, of moving into the compound in 2007, after her campaign for the right to drive provoked several death threats. Sometimes, she conceded, it is frightening. But she has grown so accustomed to it that “sometimes I think to myself, ‘Oh, I didn’t get any threats today.”’
Over tea and curried snack mix at her home in Riyadh, Ms. Fassi pronounced herself “very optimistic” about the women’s campaigns for more freedom. They break the censure on expression, and the list of topics that Saudi writers may address without being censored has also expanded very rapidly, Ms. Fassi said.
“The media is not that free, still, but it is much better than it was a few years ago. Nowadays we talk openly about minors’ marriages, about rape and incest, about cases brought against the religious police.”
And, of course, the activism produces backlash. “This campaign of Rowdha Yousef’s is a reaction,” she said — unaware that Ms. Yousef, when contacted by this reporter, expressed surprise that a journalist had come from New York to meet her. Ms. Yousef said more than 30 articles discussing her campaign had appeared in the Saudi press, but no Saudi reporter was willing to meet her, and coverage was mainly what she called mocking opinion columns.
Ahmad al-Omran, a pharmacist who blogs under the name Saudi Jeans, points out that, in the absence of opinion polling or free elections, it is hard to measure the popularity or representative nature of women’s campaigns. None have produced even an official response from the Saudi leadership.
“What do they achieve?” Mr. Omran asked. “Changing laws comes from higher up, not lower down.”
Even the most optimistic say that change will be slow. Ms. Fassi explained that even the hint of breaking the taboo on gender mixing had been traumatic for many Saudis. “People had lived their whole lives doing one thing and believing one thing, and suddenly the king and the major clerics were saying that mixing was O.K.,” Ms. Fassi said.
The extent of this trauma may be difficult for outsiders to understand, Ms. Fassi said. “You can’t begin to imagine the impact that the ban on mixing has on our lives and what lifting this ban would mean.”
Noura Abdulrahman, an Education Ministry employee who recently founded an after-school Islamic studies program aimed at teenage girls in Riyadh, said she tries to be generous toward the “liberaliyeen” — Saudi conservatives give the English word an Arabic plural and frequently employ it as a term of disparagement.
“The liberals’ motives might be good — they might want to make Saudi Arabia competitive with Western societies — but they’re failing to understand the uniqueness of Saudi society,” Ms. Abdulrahman said. “In Saudi culture, women have their integrity and a special life that is separate from men. As a Saudi woman, I demand to have a guardian. My work requires me to go to different regions of Saudi Arabia, and during my business trips I always bring my husband or my brother. They ask nothing in return — they only want to be with me.”
While Ms. Abdulrahman was discussing guardianship with a visitor, a neighbor, Umm Muhammad, dropped in for a morning tea. She proudly volunteered that her own guardian, her husband, was out of town but they were in constant touch by phone. In fact, she had just called him for permission to visit Ms. Abdulrahman.
“The image in the West is that we are dominated by men, but they always forget the aspect of love,” she said. “People who aren’t familiar with Shariah often have the wrong idea. If you want stability and safety in your life, if you want a husband who takes care of you, you won’t find it except in Islam.”
Eman Fahad is a 31-year-old linguistics graduate student and mother of three. In her blog, she called Ms. Yousef’s campaign an effort to “stand against women who are demanding to be treated as adults.”
Even if most Saudi men are caring guardians, Ms. Fahad said, until women have full adult rights under the law, there will be abuses. She said she resented conservatives’ portrayal of Saudi women’s rights activists as spoiled and frivolous. She spoke of women she had met who had been forced to quit work they loved because their guardianship had been transferred to a new, less understanding man, and of women with no legal recourse when estranged husbands snatched their children away.
“These are the women they are fighting for,” Ms. Fahad said of the campaigners. “They’re not campaigning because they really want to be allowed to go crazy in some nightclub.”
Yet Ms. Fahad conceded that most Saudi women cleave to tradition. “If you actually talk to ordinary people,” including in her circle, she said, “you’ll find that most people want things to stay the same.”
(Originally published at Egypt Reports.net)
Renowned Syrian human rights lawyer Haitham al-Maleh recently visited Cairo as part of a tour of the Middle East and Europe to meet with human rights groups and NGOs and to call on governments to condemn the Assad regime. Maleh, 81, has spent most of his life fighting against government oppression in Syria. I sat down with him and his son, Iyas, in the lobby of their hotel in Dokki for a lengthy conversation about the current Syria and Maleh’s fascinating life story.
In December 2003, Maleh delivered a speech before the German parliament on the human rights situation in Syria. In it, he called the Assad regime “a fascist dictatorship.” When he returned home, the authorities imposed a travel ban on him and he was prevented from leaving the county for the next seven years. During this period, he was subjected to repeated government intimidation and harassment. His law office was attacked three times and his windows smashed by regime forces. The street leading to his office would periodically be closed by dozens of high-ranking police and members of the intelligence services. His clients would be harassed and told to find another attorney. “I was under a lot of pressure,” Maleh says. “It was a kind of terror against me, against my customers.
Undaunted, Maleh continued to publicly criticize the Syrian government, denouncing the continued state of emergency and the lack of judicial independence. On October 14, 2009, he was arrested and brought before a military court. In July 2010, at the age of 79, he was sentenced to three years in prison for “undermining national sentiment” and “spreading false news that could weaken national morale.” Amnesty International called him “a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for the peaceful exercise of his rights to freedom of expression and association.”
Maleh was suffering diabetes and thyroid problems, and his health deteriorated in prison to the point where he spent a month and a half without being able to walk. On March 8, 2011, he was released, after Assad—in the midst of a wave of uprisings across the Arab world—declared an amnesty for prisoners over 70 years old and those convicted of minor crimes.
Within thirty minutes of returning home, Maleh began to publicly criticize the regime, calling in interviews with global media for reforms and for the release of all political prisoners. One week later, on March 15, the Syrian uprising began.
In January of 2011, Egyptians from all corners of the country erupted in mass protests, challenging the heavy handed rule of President Hosni Mubarak. The entire world watched, as Egyptians fought to have their grievances heard using sticks, stones, shouts, cell phones, and computers. Over the course of eighteen days, protesters occupied Tahrir square, the symbolic heart of the revolution, where Egyptians of all ages and parts of society could speak with one unified voice, demanding the ouster of the president. They debated politics, shared their testimonies, supported each other, and mapped out their hopes and dreams for their country. On February 11, President Mubarak resigned, ending thirty years of autocratic rule. As the euphoria and excitement dies down, Egyptians are beginning to question what they have actually achieved. They are asking themselves what they want to make of their new Egypt, and how to reconcile with decades of mistrust of authority, corruption, and an economy in shambles. The difficult part arguably, is still to come.
About the Artist
Ed Ou (24) is a culturally ambiguous Canadian photojournalist who has been bouncing around the Middle East, former Soviet Union, Africa, and the Americas.
His photography has (so far) taken him from dark eerie crypts in Madagascar, to radioactive lakes in Kazakhstan, refugee boats in the Gulf of Aden, to animatronic love doll factories in Tokyo.
Ed started his career early as a teenager, covering the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, and the fall of the Islamic Courts in Mogadishu, Somalia while he was studying in the Middle East. He first worked for Reuters and the Associated Press, covering a wide range of news stories in the area. He was also an intern at the New York Times. After university, Ed moved to Kazakhstan, where he documented the tragic consequences of Soviet nuclear weapons testing in Semipalatinsk. Recently, he has been covering the wave of uprisings that has rocked the Arab World.
Ed is the recipient of a Global Vision Award from POYi, a 1st Place Contemporary Issues award from World Press Photo, and other recognition from the Overseas Press Club, Ian Parry Scholarship, Best of Photojournalism, PDN Photo Annual, UNICEF, among others. He has been selected for a Getty Images Editorial Grant, PDN 30 Under 30, and took part in the World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass. He was recently awarded the City of Perpignan Young Reporter Award.
He is represented by Reportage by Getty Images.
(For more information on Ed Ou’s on the exhibit at O’Born in Toronto please visit the website)
(originally appeared at Democracy Now!)
In an interview, Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman said her Nobel Peace prize is a victory for Yemen and for all of the uprisings of the Arab Spring. Karman is a 32-year-old journalist and the head of the Yemeni non-profit group, Women Journalists Without Chains. She was detained for a time during the political unrest earlier this year. She is the first Arab female to win the Nobel Peace Prize and is believed to the youngest winner of the peace prize to date, slightly edging out the Irish activist Mairead Corrigan who won in 1976. We get reaction from British journalist Iona Craig, who has been closely following the uprising in Yemen. “This Nobel Peace Prize will actually in some ways go towards protecting her. Now she will become an even greater international figure and certainly if the regime sought to detain her again, I think they would create a huge problem for themselves,” Craig says.
AMY GOODMAN: This is a clip of her speaking just after her release from prison in January.
TAWAKKUL KARMAN: We will continue our struggle until this regime goes from our happy country. We will defend our country. The Jasmine Revolution continues until this regime goes.
AMY GOODMAN: Tawakkul Karman is the first Arab woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize and is believed to be the youngest winner of the peace prize to date, slightly edging out the Irish activist Mairead Corrigan who won in 1976. Both were 32. For Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the award comes as she wraps up her re-election campaign. Voters in Liberia head to the polls Tuesday. Leymah Gbowee’s Women for Peace movement is credited by some for bringing an end to the civil war in 2003. The movement started humbly in 2002 when Gbowee organized a group of women to sing and pray for an end to fighting in a fish market. She is a subject of an award winning documentary film, Pray the Devil Back to Hell. The trio of laureates follow only a dozen other women among 85 men, as well as a number of organizations, to have won the peace prize over its 110-year history. To talk more about this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, we’re joined by two guests. In a moment we’ll be going to Emira Woods, Co-Director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. She is a originally from Liberia. And with us from Britain is the British journalist, Iona Craig has been closely following the uprising in Yemen. Let us start with the Yemeni winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Tawakkul Karman. Iona Craig, tell us who she is.
IONA CRAIG: Well, I first met Tawakkul last year when she was, then, a thorn in the side of the government, working as a human rights activist and the President of Women Journalists Without Chains. She has always been a very outspoken character, fighting for the rights of [Inaudible] freedom and for political prisoners in Yemen. So, this prize is an acknowledgment of that as well as her leading role in Yemen’s unrest since January.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about her history. Talk about her significance, and the significance of a woman in Yemen winning.
IONA CRAIG: As you say, it’s particularly significant as a woman. She’s very outspoken. She’s led demonstrations, even in years gone by, leading up to the time of Yemen’s unrest which began in January, and she has inspired a lot of women as a result. She has fought very hard for press freedom and Yemen and she is also fought for political prisoners and for journalism in general in the country. She is a very forceful female, and many women have followed in her footsteps as a result now over the last 7 months and have really found their voice and will now want to be part of a new Yemen, part of this new democratic process. They don’t want to be forgotten as this, hopefully, transition happens in the months ahead.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about her organization, Women Journalists Breaking the Chains.
IONA CRAIG: This was an NGO that she set up, not just to fight for the rights of women, but also for press freedom in Yemen. The press in Yemen have a huge amount of restrictions imposed in them, particularly Yemen journalists. I met her, initially, at the trial of a Yemeni journalist, Abdul-Elah Haidar Shaye, who was then sentenced to five years in prison, supposedly for connections to Al Qaeda. He had at the time, pinpointed U.S. involvement in drone strikes in Yemen, and it appeared at the time that he was, perhaps, being punished for that. He has since, as I say, been sentenced to 5 years and she was fighting very hard for him and on his behalf to try to get him released. There are many prisoners in Yemen who were often are taken from their houses without any representation from lawyers or without any contact with their family, and these political prisoners she has sought to fight for since 2005, when she founded this organization, to try and get representation for them and for them to receive a fair trial in Yemen. So, she has been organizing demonstrations outside of the Parliament of Sana’a on a weekly basis for many years now.
AMY GOODMAN: How much of a threat does Saleh consider here and what will this mean? How much of a boost will this give the opposition movement in Yemen for both Yemen and the Saudi regime that is supporting Saleh’s return and the Saleh regime in Yemen?
IONA CRAIG: I think will be a huge boost for them. As she said in her interview today, this is an award that she dedicates to the Yemeni youth movement and to all Yemenis and to all youth across the Arab world. Yemenis, particularly the activists in Sana’a and in Ta’izz, feel they haven’t received recognition for their peaceful demonstrations that have now been going on now for the better part of nine months. So, I’ve spoken to many of them in Sana’a, today and they are certainly celebrating this award, and they see it as a recognition for their peaceful efforts as activists, as a group, as well as for recognizing Tawakkul herself. Certainly the regime dose her as a threat, which is why she was arrested in January. But, her arrests sparked further protests, and I think that they quickly realized that it was better for them to release her than to detain her, which would have caused further problems. I think, if anything, this Nobel Peace Prize will actually, in some ways, may go toward protecting her. Now she will become even greater international figure. And certainly if the regime sought to detain her again, I think it would create huge problem for themselves. But, certainly, it’s a great day for the movement in Yemen as they see it.
AMY GOODMAN: and what does this say for the men of Yemen? What does that mean in a very much a male-dominated culture?
IONA CRAIG: They have largely, although there have been some divisions in the movement about her role, accepted her as this leading figure and a lot of women as well. As I mentioned before, a lot of women have now come forward and are speaking out, have been speaking to a large crowds of male demonstrators. But, it’s also encouraged the women to come out on the street at the same time. There have been thousands of women that have come out to demonstrate on a regular basis now on the street as a result of her presence. So, yes the men are equally inspired by her activity, and largely have been largely willing to accept her role.
AMY GOODMAN: Iona, I want to thank you very much for being with us. I think the demonstration that will be taking place in New York at 4 o’clock at 47th and 1st outside the United Nations of Yemenis will be taking on a new significance. Yemenis against the Saleh regime right now. Iona Craig, speaking to us from London, usually based in Sana’a, Yemen. She was last there in August. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report.
by: NILANJANA S. ROY
(originally published in the New York Times)
6 September 2011
NEW DELHI — If Tabasom wants to meet other Afghan writers or to use the Internet, she faces not just a four-hour walk but other constraints.
“I need to have a man all the time with me when I come to Kabul,” writes Tabasom, a woman in her 20s. “We can’t walk alone here in Logar,” the province southeast of the Afghan capital. She says she would like to work outside the home, but is afraid. An aunt, a nurse, was killed by the Taliban.
And yet, like the 75 or so participants in an unusual initiative called the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, Tabasom has found ways over the last two years to tell her story.
For the first year or so after its inception, the project was “flying under the radar,” its founder, Masha Hamilton, an American journalist and novelist, said by phone. The initial contributors were recruited through friends in Kabul; these women in turn referred others from farther afield, in Herat, Fargana, Kandahar and elsewhere.
As the women began offering anecdotes about their lives, political commentary and even poems to this online magazine, Ms. Hamilton brought together a loose coalition of activists and fellow writers to act as mentors. To remain part of the workshop, the women must reside in Afghanistan and file at least once a month. In August, the project went a little more public with a campaign called Freedom to Tell Your Story.
Still, the project maintains a certain level of secrecy to protect its writers, women who may fear reprisals from family or the local authorities when they discuss arranged marriages or the disappearance of relatives. The Internet center in Kabul that serves as a hub for many of the women is at an undisclosed location. Most of the women are identified only by first name, or by pseudonyms. Two of the 75 have insisted on complete anonymity.
“In most cases,” said Ms. Hamilton, who is based in the United States and recently returned there from a visit to Afghanistan, “their families don’t know, and they don’t want their families to know.”
The women are free to write about anything they choose, and many of them do just that. Fattemeh wrote about the scent of wet grass; Roya created a childhood “Museum of Memories”; Norwan mused about marriage traditions.
But while the project began, as Ms. Hamilton said, as “a kitchen table idea” after she had worked as a reporter in Afghanistan in 2004 and 2008, she is also clear that it was intended to be “an act of activism.” Many of the writings the women have submitted are about the difficulty of getting an education or being allowed to work. A participant named Leeda wrote about a girl’s descent into “poppy addiction” after her forced marriage.
Other issues include family pressures, wearing the burqa, President Barack Obama’s speeches and debates over the merits of partitioning Afghanistan — in the two years of the project, the contributors have offered their views with a growing self-confidence.
Perhaps what they reflect is the subterranean history of resistance by women in Afghanistan.
As is well documented, the women of Afghanistan lost many of their rights when the Taliban seized power in 1996, forbidding women to work outside the home, or to leave home unless accompanied by male relatives. Change since the Taliban were driven from power in 2001 in the U.S.-led invasion has been slow. Afghanistan was recently named the world’s most dangerous country for women in a survey conducted by TrustLaw Women, a program of the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
But 2001, before the invasion, was also when Nasrin Arbabzadeh, then the leader of the Afghan delegation to the Third Muslim Women’s Games, made an impassioned plea to the Taliban authorities. “We are here to say Afghan women are alive and want an active part in social life,” she said.
In 2003, Malalai Joya made international headlines when, as a delegate to the Loya Jirga, the national assembly called to consider a new constitution, she delivered a speech denouncing the domination of local warlords, calling them anti-women. Her criticism of what she called “war criminals” in government earned her death threats and suspension from Parliament in 2007. She chronicled her struggles as an Afghan woman in her 2009 memoir, “A Woman Among Warlords.”
And in February 2011, the Afghan Women’s Network, an umbrella organization of rights groups, resisted when the government attempted to shut down all 14 shelters in the country for abused women. In an open letter, the women’s network castigated President Hamid Karzai: “We, the women activists, are accused by the government of having dishonored the national pride by publicly exposing the egregious and often humiliating violations of rights that women are exposed to. This, they said, shames us in the eyes of the world. This? The revelation of human rights abuse? This shames us?”A few days after the letter was released, Mr. Karzai’s government appeared to backtrack, and the shelters are still operating.
The women in Kabul and Herat who help to run the Afghan Women’s Writing Project come from this tradition of resistance in often desperate circumstances. “It’s when women write about the tough stuff going on in their lives that empowerment happens,” said Ms. Hamilton, who stressed that it was always the women who decided what they wanted to write about, and how much they wanted to disclose. “We believe that it is important, crucial, to hear the voices of ordinary women — especially as Afghanistan moves towards the planned pullout of troops in 2014,” she said, referring to the promised withdrawal of U.S. combat forces. “It’s crucial for women’s experiences to become part of the discussion about national development.” The diversity of these experiences is enormous.
In one piece, a woman running for Parliament describes the experience of campaigning among Pashtun nomads, her own steep learning curve and her ambitions for the future. If that story is relatively upbeat, the next one, by an unnamed writer, underlines the bleaker reality of the lives of many Afghan women. She says that she is being pushed into marrying a man whose family will not let her work, study or even step outside the house. “What I write here are the wounded and torn pieces of my heart and the secrets an Afghan girl suffers. I am like a piece of cloth. I cost little. Who will buy me?”